HAMILTON - Butler County Commissioners and Liberty Township Trustees this morning verbally endorsed a new site plan for Liberty Center, a regional mall to be built by the developer of Easton Town Center in Columbus.
Steiner + Associates briefed a joint meeting of the local boards with a presentation that two commissioners described as "spectacular" before pledging to work out a revised contract to finance the project by next week. Steiner needs an agreement in place so it can raise between $60 million and $70 million in outside capital and debt financing to build the project.
It is trying to get the deals done before taking the project to the International Council of Shopping Centers convention in Las Vegas May 20.
'Economic Engine We Want'
"We are ready to move," said Yaromir Steiner, founder and CEO of Columbus-based Steiner + Associates. "This project … is at the brink of becoming that economic engine we want for this community. It will be a civic, social and commercial hub and it will be the combination of our 15 years of learning, the best project we have ever done."
Steiner is partnering with Chicago developer John Bucksbaum on the Liberty Center project, which until this week was known as Liberty Town Square.
Steiner provided a list of prospective tenants and equity partners to an attorney representing the county but declined to release the documents citing a trade secret exemption to Ohio public record laws. He identified a 200,000 square foot Dillard's store as the project's only signed tenant to date, but said his leasing team has attracted lots of interest from upscale specialty retailers interested in the site.
They would like to break ground as early as October.
Apartments, High-End Shops,Offices And Cinema Planned
Steiner has signed a letter of intent with Towne Properties to develop 150 luxury housing units on the site. It also has a letter of intent with a hotel developer Steiner declined to name and it is close to signing a letter of intent with a theater operator, also not named.
The project will include 1.1 million square feet of new construction, about seven percent larger than than the parties were planning 14 months ago. The latest site plan calls for 694,000 square feet of retail and restaurant tenants, the apartments, the 80,000-square-foot cinema and 75,000 square feet of office space. Dillard's will operate a 200,000 square foot department store at Liberty Center. So far, it is the only named tenant.
One unique feature of Liberty Center will be small chapel. Steiner insisted on the non-denominational church structure, saying it helps build the mall's theme as a city center. The church can be used for services, weddings and small concerts, he added.
"Your development … is spectacular," said Butler County Commissioner T.C. Rogers. "The Liberty Center will bring the exciting shopping experience that you enjoy on vacation but we'll be able to enjoy that right here in Butler County."
Read a Q&A with Steiner: http://www.wcpo.com/dpp/money/business_news/qa-yaromir-steiner-talks-about-liberty-center-development-in-butler-county
View the brochure, see project renderings:
To view the brochure on a mobile device: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/693521-liberty-brochure.html
The $300 million project is expected to create 2,000 construction jobs and 4,000 retail, hotel and office jobs once completed. Those jobs will generate an estimated $160 million in annual payroll, Steiner said.
Butler County and the township previously agreed to cover up to $35 million in infrastructure costs for the project, while a New Community Authority, or NCA, was to cover an additional $15 million. An NCA is a borrowing mechanism that Ohio lawmakers established in the 1990s. Debt is repaid by fees that come from tenants or property owners that benefit from infrastructure improvements.
Steiner said he is talking to the county about a public-private partnership that could bring about the necessary infrastructure improvements at a lower cost. Tom Gabelman, a Cincinnati attorney who is advising the county on the development, said the financing model would be similar to the structure used to finance public investments at the Banks riverfront development downtown.
Gabelman, an attorney with the Frost Brown Todd law firm, represented Hamilton County on riverfront development matters, including the Banks.
Steiner's chief leasing strategist, Anne Mastin, said Easton's specialty retail tenants would all be viable candidates for the Liberty Center project.
But she declined to name any prospective retail tenants beyond Dillard's.
Mastin, executive vice president for retail real estate at Steiner, is familiar with the Cincinnati retail market, having served as Kenwood Towne Centre's top leasing strategist from 1983 to about 2000.
"Cincinnati is a town of 2.2 million people," said Mastin. "It should have more than one A+ shopping center. Columbus is 1.8 million and it has three."
Residential real estate developer Tom Humes showed up at the Butler County meeting to voice his support for Liberty Center. Humes is a University of Cincinnati Trustee and founder of Great Traditions Land and Development Co. It built the Wetherington Golf & Country Club in Butler County and owns a 50-acre site near the Liberty Way interchange.
"This is not only a great project for the township and the county. It is a great project for our region," said Humes. "We have seen some challenges in the area in terms of unfinished products but I truly believe that Mr. Steiner and his team present a plan, the investment capital and the capability to make this happen."