You’ve probably been reading on-line and in the Journal News for months now about the West Chester Activity Center (old library, Cox Rd) and the negotiations with Regency Centers Acquisitions LLC to sell the township property.
Historically, the township has only been involved in the sale of a couple pieces of property, the last one being the Station Road Schoolhouse to the Historical Society in 2018 for $1.00, but that was different because the Historical Society is a non-profit whose mission is to preserve our rich history. The sale before that was in 2003 when the Township sold/exchanged property to the Morning Star Baptist Church located on I-75 north of Walmart.
Typically, the Board of Trustees only gets involved with the sale of land in West Chester at the end of the process when the buyer/developer seeks a zoning change as a condition of the deal. A Public Hearing is held allowing locally affected residents and property owners to argue for or against the requested zoning change. The Public Hearing is often the very last step before closing the sale.
With this sale, the Township played the part of any landowner wanting to make a sale, and like many West Chester property owners over the last 30 years, the interested buyer(s) are developers seeking to develop or repurpose the land for a profit. In this case, Regency wants to build a new, state-of-the-art grocery store that Kroger can call home.
Because the Township was the seller of this property, the Board of Trustees were involved in the negotiation process to work out the best deal (price and terms) for the residents, business owners and senior citizens of West Chester. This required guidance from our legal counsel Frost Brown Todd, pouring over the contract with each iteration and understanding the consequences of the sale.
In my opinion, this was the only Win:Win scenario for all the interested parties. The Township wins because Kroger doesn’t go to Mason leaving another strip center dark and property taxes will be paid on the new development, Kroger wins because they get a bigger, better building with a Fuel Center that better serves the residents of West Chester, and Regency wins because they don’t lose Kroger and have the center go dark.
In this Trustees’ opinion, the Activity Center is a non-performing asset that will require major capital improvements over the next 3 -5 years totaling approximately $250,000 to replace the roof, sidewalks, parking lot, HVAC, etc. Investing taxpayer dollars into this property is not a good idea, particularly when the Township has other property assets that are sustainable and can be improved for resident activities.
The Trustees have been exploring options for those seniors who currently use the Activity Center and enjoy the activities. I recommended looking at the basement of Muhlhauser Barn, which is already serving the community with an established revenue stream. Remodeling the basement would enhance its appeal and we could use the money that we would have invested in the old Activity Center and invest in a new place. The Muhlhauser Barn basement is about 3500 square feet with a high ceiling, a walkout, window openings, ADA accessibility and can be heated and cooled without heating and cooling the entire barn.
Other options we’ve considered are the old Senior Center leased space at Cox and 42, the basement of the West Chester Administration Building, Chesterwood and various churches.
It’s worth mentioning that the Township and Regency Centers have a signed contract to sell the Activity Center, but it hasn’t closed yet. Like any property contract (your home for instance), an earnest deposit is paid, and the closing takes place at a future date as the buyer gets financing and other affairs in order. In this case, Regency paid an earnest deposit of $50,000 and has started working through all the conditions. These include signing a lease with Kroger, an environmental impact study, road improvements with Butler County Engineers, building design and permits with Butler County Building Department, storm water runoff, zoning change, etc. Meeting all these conditions will take approximately 15 months and ONLY THEN will the sale be finalized at the closing.
Lastly, the Trustees will not wait for the Activity Center sale to be complete before working on a solution for our seniors. Estimates and architectural designs for improving the Muhlhauser Barn basement are underway. Once received, they’ll be used to help us get a more accurate picture of the next steps.