Lebanon begins racetrack redevelopment

$3 million in state funds to offset racino move

City officials are ready to begin drawing on up to $3 million in state racetrack redevelopment funds, while their Warren County counterparts have yet to nail down a proposal.

Representatives from the city, county and Ohio Development Services Agency are to convene Wednesday the first meeting of a committee established to distribute the local share of state funds. The money was set aside for communities left without racetrack businesses after the legalization of racinos in Ohio.

Questions holding up the county plan prompted County Commissioner Dave Young to call for collaboration.

“We just really need to cooperate with the city of Lebanon and do something that benefits the taxpayers of Warren County that actually own the fairgrounds,” Young said after a board of commissioners meeting earlier this month.

Previously Young has advocated for the county to manage distribution of the racetrack redevelopment funds and argued that the state money should be spent on the county-owned fairgrounds.

But problems with the county process have left him unready to back plans for the county development, possibly to include a microbrewery, equestrian center and corporate office, on the 97-acre fairgrounds.

“I think there’s quite a few unresolved issues. I don’t know that there has been that much progress,” Young said after a Feb. 3 meeting.

Racetrack redevelopment

Lebanon, Toledo and Grove City, south of Columbus, each qualify for $3 million to revitalize their communities because their racetracks left town. Neither Toledo or Grove City has formed a committee to oversee the funding process.

The move of Lebanon Raceway to the Miami Valley Gaming racino, which opened in December 2013, cost the county fairgrounds - in Lebanon, but owned by Warren County - a key tenant and the city a business.

Last year, Young and other Warren County officials met with state officials in hopes of winning control for distribution of the funds. County officials worked with the state to relocate the racino along Interstate 75 in Turtlecreek Twp. and establish the section of Ohio’s racino law setting aside racetrack redevelopment funds.

However the state required the city and county to reach a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on the process in anticipation of meetings by the committee set up to consider projects proposed for the funding.

Lebanon is developing two sites, including one covering about eight acres just south of the county fairgrounds, in part to fix up the northern gateway into the city.

It plans to present a plan Wednesday to apply for state funding for demolition of the city garage. The city garage is being moved from Broadway, south of the fairgrounds to Main Street, west of downtown. While no tenant or owner has been identified, past plans have involved a move by the Warren County Community Services Agency.

Meanwhile the county’s proposal is stalled by problems in reaching an agreement with the fair board, which manages the fairgrounds, and a family owning seven acres within the fairgrounds site.

“There are several issues that are very much up in the air. I’m not willing to spend millions of taxpayer dollars until those questions are answered,” Young said after a Feb. 3 commissioners meeting.

At a recent council meeting, City Manager Pat Clements told the Lebanon City Council the entire $3 million could still be spent outside the faigrounds.

“There is nothing in the memorandum of understanding or state guidelines requiring the $3 million to be used in any particularly location – as long as the project is within the 1 mile project area radius,” Clements said in an email response to questions about this comment.

Wednesday’s meeting

The state is expected to provide updates on the grant process at Wednesday’s meeting.

“The committee will submit an agreed upon project proposal outlining the project description, funding and timeline. Our agency will review the proposal to make sure it meets the standards set forth by this program,” Stephanie Gostomski, a public information officer with the Ohio Development Services Agency, said in an email.

County economic development officials are expected to talk about revolving loan and loan loss reserve funds set up to help fund the redevelopment.

Then the city is expected to unveil its plan to redevelop the former garage site at 511 N. Broadway.

The city has a tentative $62,000 agreement for excavation of the garage facilities, after city departments move to the new garage in May 2015. Clements wants to seek a total of $114,000 for demolition, consulting fees, site assessment and asbestos removal and abatement from the state.

“There are several factors that make this site a good candidate for the grant program. It’s within the designated project area, it’s close to the former racetrack location, and its publicly owned and available for redevelopment,” Clements said.

Clements said the process was designed to manage projects coming together at different times.

“One of the purposes of the memorandum of understanding is to allow on-site and off-site projects to proceed at different paces,” Clements said.

County issues

Young has balked at moving forward until the county has adequate control of the fairgrounds and seven acres of private property within the fairgrounds site.

County Administrator Dave Gully is working with the county fair board, which has authority over the fairgrounds, on an agreement that would enable redevelopment, alongside the annual fair and other events.

“It’s not we’re in disagreement. We’re in the process of meshing it together,” said Gene Steiner, chairman of the fair board.

While mainly focused on preparations for the county fair, Steiner said the fair board had scheduled a series of events at the fairgrounds, while enjoying a resurgence in stall rentals by horsemen in the area to race at Miami Valley Gaming.

“We continue to capitalize on the fact we have this new racetrack over here,” Steiner said.

Nor has there been an agreement reached with the owners of seven acres within the fairgrounds site.

“There’s a multitude of ways we could work it out. Selling it is one of them.,” John Carlo said. “We’re excited to see what we can make of the place.”

In addition to the state funds, the operators of the new racino have committed to donating another $3 million for fairgrounds redevelopment.

Commissioner Pat South is to represent the county at Wednesday’s meeting. “We’ll know more after that,” County Administrator Dave Gully said.

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