Warren County wants land for sports complex

Union Village would straddle Ohio 741. This rendering shows the first section to be built, across from Marble Hall, the oldest building on the Otterbein retirement campus.

Combined ShapeCaption
Union Village would straddle Ohio 741. This rendering shows the first section to be built, across from Marble Hall, the oldest building on the Otterbein retirement campus.

Otterbein wants tax-, revenue-sharing deals first.

Warren County officials are frustrated with Otterbein Senior Lifestyle Choices' unwillingness to turn over almost 94 acres for a $10 to $15 million sports complex at the proposed Union Village development , until tax- and revenue-sharing agreements are in place for the entire project.

The county is anxious to take ownership of the sports-park property and levy a 1-percent lodgings tax to help pay for the project.

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This would enable the county and Warren County Convention & Visitors Bureau to begin construction on the Warren County Sports Park at Union Village this year, using port authority financing to save nearly $1.7 million on the project.

Last week, Commissioner Shannon Jones suggested Otterbein was not acting in good faith by withholding the transfer until it was guaranteed tax incremental financing and new community authority.

“I’m a little frustrated,” Jones said.”In the short period of time that I’ve been engaged it’s been so difficult to get the land transfer.”

“It seems to me to not be in good faith,” she added, suggesting the county could lose leverage in the deal, unless the land was transferred. “It seems to be in their best interest, not in the collective best interest.”

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Otterbein plans to use funds from a tax abatement and a community authority to help pay for the 4,500-home, 1,400-acre planned community. Union Village is to feature the sports park, as well as residential and commercial development complementing Otterbein's existing retirement community and headquarters outside Lebanon.

“There are a number of elements all in play simultaneously – approval of both the New Community Authority and Tax Incentive Financing plans by Warren County and Turtlecreek Township Trustees and the local school district, zoning approval for the sports complex, approval of the county’s hotel tax to fund development of the sports complex, and finally the transfer of land from Otterbein to the county,” Gary Horning, vice president for communications and marketing at Otterbein said.

“To the best of our knowledge at Otterbein, each and every one of the elements is proceeding. There are scheduled reviews already on the calendar to approve these elements, at least those involving Otterbein, and unless something unforeseen arises we expect due process and associated contracts to be completed over the next couple of months. In our opinion everyone is working steadfastly in good faith and preparing diligently for the previously scheduled review meetings,” Horning added via a series of emails.

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The commissioners and Otterbein officials are expected to discuss these issues and creation of of a tax incremental financing (TIF) district underlying the development on Tuesday. The TIF would set aside all property taxes on commercial improvements and half on homes built there for 30 years.

A week later, they are to meet again to discuss formation of the community authority that will levy property owners and users of Union Village to pay for amenities and maintenance of the facilities within the development.

Turtlecreek Twp. trustees are scheduled to consider approving the TIF in April.

The questions about transfer of the sports-park land, off Greentree Road in Turtlecreek Twp., came up during a discussion last Tuesday of levying the 1-percent lodging tax increase “into perpetuity” in case future projects could be funded by the tax or the facility’s operation costs could be paid through the tax proceeds.

“I just don’t want to do a bait and switch,” Commissioner Dave Young said, noting previous discussions had focused on use of the money to build the facility.

However Young left open the possibility some money raised by the tax could be used for other projects, if proceeds exceeded the amount needed to pay down the debt taken on to build the sports park.

Rather than leases like those used to help avoid sales tax on materials used to build the racino and other new developments, the Warren County Port Authority is planning to issue tax-exempt bonds, reducing payback by close to$1 million to almost $1.7 million.

On Tuesday, the commissioners supported this plan, provided the contracts passed legal muster.

Deputy Administrator Martin Russell asked the commissioners to consider beginning in July to levy the additional lodging tax to begin building up reserves. This also could enable the bureau to begin construction of the sports park this year, in hopes it could open and begin generating revenue to offset the debt next year.

Administrator Tiffany Zindel said the hold-up on the land transfer was delaying the levying of the tax and other steps leading to getting to work on the sports park.

“I don’t understand what the hang-up is with the land transfer,” Jones said.

Bruce McGarry, the assistant county prosecutor advising the commissioners, said Otterbein wanted all the other agreements in place before it transferred the sports park land.

“The season might be lost,” Russell said, proposing the commissioners approve the tax collection before the land is transferred.

Another coming date is key in the negotiations.

The facility would be owned by the county and leased to the operator, the visitors bureau.

The bureau, run by an independent board, was to be the owner of the property, until the state law change enabling the lodging tax increase said the land needed to be county property.

This issue stalled the county enactment of the tax. But the county commissioners are now ready to take ownership.

Under the existing approved plan, the 93.6 acres designated as a sports complex would revert to residential zoning permitting up to 418 “dwelling units” if the land transfer hasn’t been made by Nov. 1.

The Stage 2 plan, outlining the design for the complex, was recently approved by the regional planning commission executive committee. It no longer specifies who the land would be transferred to.

Otterbein has asked for a delay in a final decision on this plan by the commissioners.

“We probably need to get them over here sooner than later. We have bent over backwards for Otterbein,” Young said.

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