EAST LIVERPOOL - Action taken Thursday night by City Council was aimed at paving the way for possible development of three vacant properties, including two located downtown and the former Riverview Florist.
During a special meeting, council passed an ordinance creating a tax increment financing (TIF) program encompassing two East Fifth Street buildings that once held a 5&10 and a department store.
Adam Hughes, an economic development professional with Better City LLC, addressed council's finance committee during a meeting just prior to the council session, explaining how implementation of a TIF program will allow for the property's development.
Plans call for the former Woolworth's and Ogilvie's buildings to be utilized by the New Castle School of Trade (NCST).
The TIF program will provide 100 percent tax abatements over a 30-year period for developers of just those two properties. This means that, while current tax revenue collected on the property about $5,000 annually will continue, improvements made will be exempt from taxation during that period.
However, the developer will make payments in lieu of taxes to the county auditor, who will then return those payments to the city to be used for re-development of the property.
The school board also had to approve the TIF program since it will also not receive taxes on the improvements due to the exemption. That approval was given at the board's meeting on Monday.
Councilman Scott Barrett questioned whether the former 5&10 will be torn down for parking, but Hughes said plans call for the trade school converting it into a welding studio for students.
Hughes pointed out that the 5&10 is slated for tear-down if not developed, meaning the taxes from that structure will be lost if that occurs.
As for parking Hughes said students will be able to find parking "for the time being," noting the city does have a "real need" for a parking structure. During Monday's school board meeting, it was indicated that a parking structure is part of long-range plans for the NCST project.
The committee agreed to forward the ordinance to council, which passed it under suspension of rules with no comment from council members.
As part of the plan for development of the buildings, historic tax credits will be sought from the Ohio Development Services Agency, and a convoluted series of events had to take place for that to happen.
While C.A.O.H. Commercial Ventures LLC is the actual owner, the city had to be shown as an owner at one time. C.A.O.H. transferred ownership to the city, the city to its Community Improvement Corporation (CIC), and the CIC to the investment group, Lionmark, which will, in turn, sell it to New Castle School of Trades.
A multi-signing closure on the property took place earlier in the day Thursday, finalizing those steps.
After last night's meeting, Tom Wycoff, one of Lionmark's principals, said the next step will be to make application for the historic tax credits, saying the state is expected to announce by year's end which entities received the tax incentives.
Saying he is confident this project will be awarded, Wycoff said the next step would be to begin negotiations to turn over the property to NCST.
Referring to the project, President of Council John Torma said, "It's been a long time coming," while Mayor Jim Swoger said, "This is only the beginning."
Council also approved an ordinance transferring the former Riverview Florist property to the CIC, which will then be responsible for its development, as well as asbestos removal from some of the greenhouse windows and pipes.
The CIC was established to act as the city's agent for the development of properties, which it can do without the bidding requirements and other issues the city faces in most cases.
The property consists of more than 80 acres that were annexed from Liverpool Township into the city.