Towne Mall purchase launches ‘next evolution’ of project

The 45-year-old Towne Mall Galleria, located in the “heart of the city,” has been on life support for years as customers shifted their shopping habits from traditional malls to open-air centers.

The city took another step Tuesday night toward resuscitating the Towne Mall property.

City Council unanimously approved the $1 million for a purchase agreement of the site located just off I-75 near the Ohio 122 exit.

Council member Rodney Muterspaw said neighboring communities along I-75 have “passed us by” with their retail and entertainment development.

“This is huge,” he said.

The purchase includes the portion of the mall site that is commonly known as the former Sears, Elder-Beerman, and the main center section of the mall, according to the city. It does not include the section where the Burlington/Gabe’s stores are located.

The funds approved in this legislation will be for the two earnest money deposits ($500,000 each) as indicated in the agreement. City Council will need to approve the remaining $15 million of the purchase prior to the closing expected to be in June 2023.

These funds will come out of the General Fund with a long-term plan of reimbursing the fund through TIF debt proceeds at a later date as the development of the project come to fruition, City Manager Paul Lolli said.

Mayor Nicole Condrey said the agreement is the “next evolution of the project” and called the support from Warren County leaders “incredibly strong.”

Lolli has said the Towne Mall project is only the beginning of a “fantastic relationship” with Warren County.

Martin Russell, deputy county administrator and executive director of the Warren County Port Authority, said the county is interested in turning the mall area into “a new modern destination point” that creates job and tax growth.

For that to happen, the mall must be “significantly refreshed,” Martin told the Journal-News Wednesday afternoon.

“We want to make it better,” he said.

So far, Warren County has committed $3.5 million to the project, secured $1 million in demolition grants from the state and in January commissioners approved about $73,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding toward a feasibility and marketing study to determine the size and scope of the project.

Lolli has said the redevelopment of the Towne Mall could be “one of the best things to happen to Middletown in a long, long time.”

Eventually, he said, after the project is complete the entire East End region will “bloom and blossom.”

Under the terms of the agreement, the city is afforded an initial due diligence period of 90 days before any deposited earnest monies become non-refundable. During this period, the city will perform various inspections at the site and examine all title paperwork and documentation concerning land rights, leases, according to city documents.

Tal Moon, the most veteran City Council member, said discussions about purchasing the Towne Mall began during executive sessions when Susan Cohen was acting city manager and continued under then-City Manager Jim Palenick and now Lolli.

Moon thanked past and current city staff and council members for working extensively on the project and said Lolli and Assistant City Manager Nathan Cahill pushed the project “over the finish line.”

He called the purchase agreement a “significant step” in the redevelopment of the mall.

The city plans to convert the mall property into a sports and entertainment complex with retail, hotels, bars and restaurants and residential uses, officials have said.

Former City Manager Jim Palenick said he envisioned an ice hockey arena on the site because it would complement and not compete with Spooky Nook, the mega sports facility under construction in Hamilton.

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