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Butler County, Liberty Twp. give final OK for $300M retail center

Journal News | Chelsey Levingston and Amanda Seitz | July 25, 2013

Butler County and Liberty Twp. officials Thursday signed the final multi-million dollar development agreement with private company Steiner + Associates to construct a mega shopping, office and residential community center.

The project, named Liberty Center, is a more than $300 million, 1.1 million-square-foot mega mixed-used center to be built in Liberty Twp. at the intersection of Ohio 129, Interstate 75 and Liberty Way.

“It is the largest development project in Butler County history,” said Thomas Gabelman, an attorney hired by Butler County as private counsel in negotiations.

The agreement was unanimously approved during a special meeting between Liberty Twp. trustees and Butler County commissioners held at the county fairgrounds. It commits a maximum $43 million in public money for the project to construct infrastructure including parks, streets and parking spaces.

The public money is a portion of the project’s total cost, with most of the project being paid for privately.

Butler County agreed to finance $20 million worth of the project, backed by tax revenues generated from the project’s property improvements. Liberty Twp. will also contribute $5 million toward the project.

Another $18 million worth of public funds will come from revenues generated by a yet-to-be established taxing authority. If approved as expected, the new community authority will collect a 0.5 percent user fee on sales made at the center, and a separate assessment from tenants. The fee will cost 50 cents for every $100 a shopper spends at Liberty Center.

Columbus-based developer Steiner + Associates will also kick in $17 million toward public improvements, bringing the total cost of just infrastructure upgrades for the project to about $60 million.

Officials want the center to pay for itself from increased property values. Taxes collected on the retail center will go to pay off $25 million worth of public debt to be taken out to finance the groundwork, including parking and storm water and sewer systems. The property sits in a tax increment financing district, which means taxes that would normally have been collected will be used instead to pay down the debt.

“But for building that development, we wouldn’t have that revenue source,” Gabelman said. 

Butler County and Liberty Twp. officials negotiated down its financial incentives for the project. A memorandum of understanding reached between the parties in 2012 committed $35 million in public financing from the county and township. 

No general fund money will be used, a move that protects local taxpayers, Butler County Administrator Charlie Young said. 

“Here’s the danger in any one of the projects like this one: trying to protect public money,” Young said. “One of the ways you do that is you insist there’s more private money invested than public.”

Steiner is obligated by the agreement signed Thursday to build 1.1 million-square-feet at an appraised value of $192.5 million. 

Once open, Liberty Center is expected to create more than 4,000 permanent jobs and have a $676 million economic impact for the area, Butler County Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said.

Officials said they were hammering out final details of the 96- page contract until late Wednesday night, just hours before Liberty Twp. trustees and Butler County Commissioners held a special joint meeting to approve the deal at the Butler County fairgrounds Thursday.

While officials approved the details of the final contract, called a Master Development Agreement, a number of steps still need to be taken before Steiner + Associates can break ground. The county and township, for example, still need to secure the bonds to pay for the project.

Yaromir Steiner, founder and chief executive officer of Steiner + Associates, said an additional $250 million needs to be raised in private equity.

The agreement is “a key element. With this in flux, we could really not go and finish our financial transactions. Now this is defined, we know what it is, we can go from here,” Steiner said.

The county also needs to approve the creation of the Liberty Community Authority, which will collect the user fee and assess tenants. A public hearing on the community authority is scheduled for Aug. 22, Young said.

Construction is slated to start fall this year and Liberty Center is supposed to open in 2015. Plans call for more than 200 luxury apartments, a 150-room hotel and 75,000-square-feet of office space. Announced tenants included department store Dillard’s and dinner-and-movie theater CineBistro.

Liberty Center is a game-changing development, Steiner said.

“What makes it different is first it’s a mixed-used project like many others. But this one integrates, totally, the residential, the office, and hospitality components in it, that is being developed at the same time…in a suburban location with room for expansion,” Steiner said.

“This would be our version 2.0. Easton was 1.0, Greene was maybe 1.1. This is 2.0, we’re moving to a whole different level,” he said. 

Steiner previously developed Easton Town Center in Columbus and The Greene in Beavercreek.
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7100 Foundry Row, Liberty Township, Ohio 45069
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