To Inform, Provoke, Dispel, and Inspire—Ideas and actions for life in Worthington, Ohio
Ideas, Actions, People, and Commentary in the City of Worthington

Lifestyle Communities tries again at UMCH, and other Economic Development updates, 2020

2020 will be highly significant for our economic development efforts.  Multiple high-profile, high-impact projects are all coming to a decision point this year.  Economic factors are of course driving these projects, but let’s remember that there is more at stake than dollars and cents.  Big projects have a lasting impact on the daily fabric of our lives, for good or ill.  We have one chance to get it right.  It’s my conviction that all development projects ought to be good for both city finances and reflective of our community’s character, values, and enduring identity.  That’s the challenge, to achieve both.  Unlike most communities, I think Worthington can realize this—especially with an engaged citizenry.

What follows is a brief thumb-nail sketch of how I understand the current state of key projects.  I hope this helps to address some questions and curiosities, and enables any reader so inclined to get more involved.  Much more could be said about each of these items—and I will be writing about some of them soon, for example, Stafford Village and UMCH.  Feel free to contact me with any questions and I’ll do my best to shed light on things.  Thanks.  David

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UMCH:  Developer Lifestyle Communities, Ltd., at their request, met with City Council President Bonnie Michael yesterday (Thursday, 1/16).  This marks the fateful beginning of Lifestyle’s second direct effort to develop the UMCH property. 

Residents will recall Lifestyle’s 2015 proposal for UMCH that included over 550 units (≈ 350+ apartments + 200+ condos/houses).  That high-density proposal quietly (and thankfully) disappeared following its unveiling to the public, at a meeting at the WEC, in June of 2015.

It should be noted that Bonnie was joined at the meeting yesterday by City Council President Pro Tem Scott Myers and City Manager Matt Greeson.  As soon as any information is made public about the meeting, and expected timelines for a public presentation by Lifestyle, of either general or specific proposals, I will share them promptly through this blog.

Relatedly, it is expected that Ohio Health will also be making a proposal, in the very near future, for an office/medical care facility along several acres of the UMCH High St. frontage toward Larrimer Ave.  This follows Ohio Health’s earlier effort to develop a facility at the site back in 2017, an effort that was ultimately stymied because the Conference Center’s portion of the proposed site was subdivided (http://www.worthington.org/873/Ohio-Health-Proposal).  How this Ohio Health proposal will relate to whatever Lifestyle is conceiving for the larger property remains to be seen.

Much, much more will be written in coming weeks/months about this highly significant property.

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Stafford Village:  Our Municipal Planning Commission (MPC) has recommended (by a 4-1 vote) that this 3 acre parcel, located in the Historic District, be rezoned using the Planned Unit Development (PUD) process, to accommodate NCR’s proposal for a 2-3 story, 135,000 square foot building for senior apartments (current square footage is ≈ 32,000 square feet).  The PUD rezoning ordinance will be introduced to Council on 2/3, and will receive its first public hearing on Tuesday 2/18 (Monday 2/17 is President’s Day). 

As I see it, we (the city govt.) have so far failed to explore whether we could develop senior apartments at this site (and elsewhere) in a way that is compatible with the existing neighborhood and in accord with established standards.  Thus far, the city has rather uncritically, and unimaginatively, simply accepted NCR’s contention that the proposed mega-building is the only way.  We can do better than this, I believe, and I hope that at Council we will.  More will be written about this in coming weeks.

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Holiday Inn site:  Residents would be justified in wondering what is taking so long for redevelopment of this site.  It has been about a year since the tear-down, and still there is no visible progress.  As readers may know, I am often critical of city processes, but I can say that this project is one example where the city has operated with alacrity and appropriate, vigorous support of the owner’s efforts.  The delays have been what I would call internally-based and market-driven. 

The upshot is that the owners have most recently reached an agreement with Hilton for the building of a single structure (two buildings were previously planned for the hotel component of the development) to house a Tru by Hilton hotel.  Learn more about Tru here https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewbender/2016/01/27/hilton-debuts-affordable-tru-by-hilton-brand-for-millennials-techies-and-those-who-love-them/#332bcff81555, and here https://www.hilton.com/en/tru/.

But the project at this site is about more than a redeveloped hotel.  In addition, the Wilson Bridge Rd. frontage is expected to be completely revamped to accommodate new, two story commercial (including service oriented retail) and office buildings.  Landscaping, a new traffic signal, and an ingress/egress newly realigned with the egress from the Worthington Mall are designed to provide a destination point and to complement activities at the mall.  A single retail building is proposed for construction along High St. 

Timeline? According to the owners’ presentation to Council 11/18/19 (https://worthington.org/DocumentCenter/View/5934/Witness-Investment_Worthington-Tru-Presentation-to-Council-11-18-2019?bidId=)), construction of the commercial retail is to commence in the next few months and be completed by the fall of 2020.  Construction of the hotel is expected to begin by early fall 2020 and to be completed before year-end 2021.  However, given the multiple delays to date (the first public presentation on this project was in February of 2016!), I think the best attitude is one of hopeful yet sober optimism.

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Worthington Mall:  The mall is now under new ownership, which is expected to bring a proposal for significant reinvestment and reconfiguration of the existing structures at the site.  It is well known that, in general, the restaurants at the site are doing well, while the retail is challenged.  I would expect that the future size and shape of the mall building will reflect these operational realities.  Further, it is likely that additional office space will be pursued at the property.  If done well (in size and design aesthetics), and taking fully in to account impacts on traffic, a redevelopment at this site could be very positive for the public, the city’s finances, and motivation for further improvements of the commercial properties along W. Wilson Bridge Rd.  I’d expect a proposal from the new owners mid- to late-2020.

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Northeast Gateway:  This project refers to the realignment of the intersections at Huntley, Worthington-Galena Rd., E. Wilson Bridge Rd., and Sancus Blvd.  The overall purpose of this significant federal/state/local project is to reduce congestion for both commercial and normal vehicular traffic along this important corridor.  But beyond efficiencies, this project will also result in a far more attractive and welcoming “gateway” in to Worthington from the northeast, and the welcome inclusion of bicycle and pedestrian-friendly paths and walkways. 

Right-of-Ways have been obtained, the Huntley Rd. water main has been relocated, and further preparatory work will take place this winter/spring (demo of buildings, utility relocations, etc.), in anticipation of roadway construction beginning in the fall of 2020, with completion of the road work (but not all of the landscaping and other amenities) targeted for the fall of 2021.

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Anthem:  This ≈ 200,000 sf office building represents a significant factor for the city’s finances and overall commercial activities along High St.  There is parking for approx. 800-900 employees, and if filled it is expected to generate, conservatively, ≈ $500,000 – $1,000,000/yr for the city. The building was sold and vacated as of 7/1/18.  External improvements are visible to all.  The owner has worked aggressively with the city to attract a tenant, and though there have been near-misses, at last word the search is still on for one or more tenants.  It is possible that we will see further facade/external improvements being made in the near future.  The parcel just south of the Anthem building is expected to be developed, offering service-oriented retail/restaurant to accommodate the workforce of the new tenant.  Stay tuned.

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David Robinson

David Robinson lives in Worthington with his wife, Lorraine, and their three children who attend Otterbein University and Colonial Hills Elementary. David is President and co-owner of Marcy Adhesives, Inc., a local manufacturing company. David has served on Worthington City Council since January, 2018, and is deeply committed to 1) advancing resident-centered policies, 2) supporting responsible development that enhances our unique historic character, 3) endorsing environmentally sustainable practices for both residents and city operations, 4) promoting the safety and well-being of all residents, and 5) preserving the family-friendly nature of our neighborhoods.