There appears to be light at the end of the tunnel for one of the biggest thorns in the side of the city after Urbana City Council authorized administration to accept ownership of the former Q3/JMC Inc. property, pending Champaign County Board of Revision approval, now that a developer has come forward willing to redevelop the site.
The 605 Miami St. property, which has been vacant since 2008 and contains several buildings including a large factory partially destroyed by fire last year, also has an issue with contaminated groundwater on the west side of the property.
“We believe pretty confidently we have an opportunity on the table for a developer, yet to be named, that’s interested in taking the property and developing it and expanding on it,” Director of Administration Kerry Brugger said. “The caveat is we have to take possession of it in order to work with Honeywell and the Ohio EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to get it cleaned up.”
While Brugger added the development agreement is in the process of being finalized, the city’s primary responsibility will be to help clean up the property in order to obtain a “clean bill of health” from the EPA. The majority of the cleanup costs, he said, will be covered by Honeywell, who became liable for the western portion of the property where the environmental concerns are after acquiring the site from Grimes Aerospace years ago.
During the cleanup process, any grants awarded to those efforts would go directly to the developer, who will be “driving and coordinating” the project, Brugger said.
Prior to council waiving the three-reading rule and passing the measure to seek ownership of the property by a 5-0 vote (council members Doug Hoffman and Eugene Fields were absent), Brugger summed up the impact the property has had on the entire Urbana community over the past several years.
“We are at a point where we are going to have to kind of control our own destiny and make this right for the community,” he said. “It’s an eyesore, and it’s a public nuisance.
“It’s really a safety concern for not only citizens, but also our own workforce (police and fire),” Brugger added. “We are fortunate to this point that no one has gotten hurt.”
With council’s blessing in hand, administration plans to present its case for ownership – free of back taxes – to the county Board of Revision during a special meeting set for 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 22, at the office of the Champaign County commissioners, 1512 S. U.S. Route 68, suite A100.
“Hopefully by the end of the year or early next year, we can have the property transferred once (the board) starts the process,” Brugger said.
Progress comes with a price
According to Doug Crabill, community development manager, the city has been working on the Q3/JMC Redevelopment Project since 2011 when a Phase II Environment Assessment was ordered on the approximately 20-acre property. The assessment was completed in 2013 and funded through a Clean Ohio grant from the Ohio Development Services Agency.
Numbers presented by administration show the city has used to date $265,818.89 in grant funding toward the project. Since 2012, the city has also paid out $96,909 for a variety of work and services (legal, engineering, surveying, etc.) associated with the Miami Street property.
“We have quite an investment of time, effort, and an ongoing requirement because it’s in our sandbox,” Brugger said. “I think if we take possession of it, get it cleaned up, and get it back into productive use, our investment is not lost. If we push away from the table and let it sit down there, our investment is lost. We have an opportunity for the long term to recoup our investment and get (the property) back into productive use.”
Based on the development agreement being ironed out between the city and the interested party, Brugger said, the city’s financial commitment over the anticipated three-year cleanup period is projected to be “somewhere just south of $350,000.”
He added the costs won’t all be “hard dollar costs” or involve purchase orders. Instead, the $350,000 figure includes in-kind services or work the city is able to perform on its own using city employees and equipment.
“I think it’s money well spent, money that we need to invest in ourselves or we are going to continue to fight something that is just a cancer in the community,” Brugger said. “We need to get rid of it.”
Once the three parties – city, developer and Honeywell – complete the cleanup process, the city will see not only an immediate return on some of the money spent, but also future tax dollars through an increased tax base along with a new water and sewer customer.
Brugger said the development agreement will include a selling price that the developer will pay the city in order to complete the property transfer once the EPA signs off on the cleanup.
As for job creation, Champaign Economic Partnership Executive Director Marcia Bailey informed council the developer has had some success already in marketing the site.
“They’ve already been approached by companies who want to start populating down there and getting it back to use,” she said.
The initial projection of jobs the development of the eastern portion of the property could bring to the city stands at about 50, Bailey added.
In other business:
•The Urbana Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 93 is accepting registration forms for its “The Giving Christmas Tree,” a program that provides Christmas presents to children in need within the city. Forms, which are due by Dec. 1, are available at police headquarters in the municipal building, 205 S. Main St.
•Council member Pat Thackery reminded residents that leaves should be raked to the edge of the curb, not into the street where they can end up in city gutters, backing up the storm water sewer system.
•The city will pick up leaves through Dec. 5, while the compost facility at 1261 Muzzy Road will remain open until at least Dec. 3.
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-508-2304 or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.