Hamilton City Council approves $3 million loan for massive riverside development

Downtown Hamilton is beginning to see the long-promised development boom as a result of Spooky Nook.
One proposed layout for the 17.5-acre Crawford Hoying development in Hamilton on the current...
One proposed layout for the 17.5-acre Crawford Hoying development in Hamilton on the current site of the Cohen Recycling plant.(City of Hamilton)
Published: Jul. 12, 2023 at 9:33 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 13, 2023 at 2:11 PM EDT
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HAMILTON, Ohio (WXIX) - An ambitious development with apartments, townhomes, a hotel and lifestyle amenities is moving forward in Hamilton after city council members gave the greenlight.

It’s one of several projects reviewed by council members as a development pipeline takes shape that will bring hundreds of millions in private investment to the city.

Hamilton City Council voted 7-0 Wednesday evening to approve a development agreement with Crawford Hoying, the prolific Columbus-based developer that owns The Banks in Downtown Cincinnati.

Crawford Hoying will purchase the Cohen Recycling plant at 55 North Third Street across the Great Miami River from the Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill campus. An agreement is already in place with Cohen Recycling to relocate to a new plant north of the site.

The developer expects to close on the purchase in August, begin demolition in 2024 and start construction on the 17.5-acre mixed-use project in 2025.

The city will create a 30-year project TIF for the site, meaning the increase in property taxes resulting from the development will be harnessed to finance its build-out.

The city will give Crawford Hoying a $3 million forgivable loan from the city’s general fund in exchange for developing the land. The development agreement contains three $50 million milestones the developer must meet over the next three years for the city to forgive the loan.

The first milestone comes in December 2026, when Crawford Hoying must have the first phase of the project completed: 176 apartments, a 120 key hotel, 5,000 sq.ft. of commercial space and six townhomes. The last milestone comes a decade later, in 2036, when the full development must be finished.

At each juncture, if the milestone is not met, Crawford Hoying will owe back $1 million of the $3 million loan. If all the milestones are met, however, the city will reimburse itself for the loan (which at that point would become a grant) with money it expects to receive by retaining 25 percent of future TIF revenue.

“So if they don’t perform, they would have to pay us back,” Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith said last month. “And if they do perform, the city is being paid back through the 25 percent of the tax increment that is being collected.”

Other amenities are planned for the development, including greenspace, rooftop space and riverfront access for pedestrians and cyclists. A site plan is not yet finalized.

The agreement puts the full cost of the project at $150 million, though Smith said that number is only a placeholder target for the loan terms and that the project will likely entice substantially more investment.

Smith explained the development wouldn’t have happened were it not for Spooky Nook. He also hinted this is just part of what’s to come for downtown Hamilton as a result of the massive sports complex across the river.

“Interest rates have gone up and with some inflationary pressure, a lot of development in other areas has slowed down,” he said. “But I would say deal flow today is more robust than at any point since I’ve been here, and I think that is a testament to our strong team and the fact that people find Hamilton a strong place to deploy capital.”

Embellishing the point Wednesday were two presentations before city council on adaptive reuse projects that will net downtown Hamilton a pair of new hotels.

“This is like a real domino effect of repurposing, new development, as well as the historic properties that are in the area,” Hamilton Mayor Pat Moeller said.

The Mueller Building at 20 High Street will be renovated, supplemented with a four-story addition and turned into a 159-room hotel under the boutique brand of an unnamed major hotel operator.

Indiana-based Spectrum Investment Group and Utah-based hotel developer Acumen Development are behind the $48 million conversion. Amro Kamel, founder and managing partner of Spectrum Investment Group, promised council members the building’s historic elements will be preserved and that the resulting hotel will be unique.

“We don’t want a standard hotel look,” Kamel said. “We want to incorporate the community’s memories as much as we can with the design of the hotel, and give travelers and people coming for the tournaments at Spooky Nook a reason to stay in Hamilton.”

A speakeasy is envisioned for the first floor. The project will retain Municipal Brew Works in the building.

Hamilton city council could approve a development agreement, including a $2 million grant, a 30-year TIF and $250,000 for utility upsizing, as soon as its next meeting.

Just across Main Street, the Anthony Wayne Hotel at 10 South Monument Avenue will also be renovated and turned into a 54-room hotel, called the Wellhouse Hotel, under the Hilton Tapestry brand.

An ordinance containing the development agreement, to include a 30-year TIF, is being drafted and will go before city council at an upcoming meeting. Construction is expected to begin this fall, and the hotel could open as early as summer 2024.

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