Sheila McLaughlin reports:
A Columbus developer will return to Butler County Thursday with a slightly revised plan for the $300 million shopping destination spot it wants to build in Liberty Township.
Yaromir Steiner, founder and chief executive officer of Steiner + Associates, hopes it’s not a deal breaker. He’s counting on $35 million from the county and township to make improvements around the 100-acre site, at Liberty Way west of Interstate 75. Otherwise, he said he can’t obtain the rest of the private financing he already has lined up.
The $300 million mixed-use project was first proposed to have two 100,000-square-foot department stores with a mix of specialty retail shops, a hotel, a dine-in cinema, restaurants, office space and high-end apartments.
Much of that proposal remains the same, with one major exception: A single department store instead of two. Dillard’s has signed on to build a store twice the original size.
The project’s name has also changed. Liberty Town Square is now Liberty Center.
“It will be shocking to me if this deal craters. So many cities would kill for a project like this,” Steiner said in an interview Monday in his Columbus office where he gave The Enquirer an exclusive look at the project.
Steiner + Associates had proposed the project years earlier, but put it on hold in 2008 when the economy tanked.
Barring any financial glitches, Phase I of the project would begin in October 2013. Steiner, who is partnering with Bucksbaum Retail Properties in Chicago, said he hopes to break ground in October or November of this year, if the county and township provide their financial support.
A “major” retailer that Steiner isn’t ready to disclose will occupy anywhere from 40,000 to 80,000 square feet of the retail space that once was reserved for a second 100,000 square-foot department store. Steiner said he has five candidates for that space.
“Is the second one a department store in the sense that they will have departments in the store like the traditional perfume counter? No. It’s going to be something different. We think the difference will be a strength,” Steiner said.
He said the sales volume is expected to be the same as a department store.
“The combination of the two anchors will still generate $40 million to $50 million in volume,” he said.
The project will include about 1.1 million square feet of space, just slightly more than what was proposed earlier. The retail end will lose 25,000 square feet, but that will be offset by increased square footage in the offices and apartments, Steiner said.
The 200,000-square-foot Dillard’s store would be the largest in Greater Cincinnati, Steiner said, and the first in Greater Cincinnati to be built from scratch instead of moving into a former McAlpin’s site. He said he has a signed contract on the development.
“Cincinnati been a great market for Dillard’s. We have enjoyed a long presence there since 1998 and we think that Steiner is going to build a premium center and we definitely want to be a part of it,” said Dillard’s spokeswoman Julie Bull.
Construction of Liberty Center initially was supposed to start by Nov. 30, 2012.
But questions from commissioners about the quality of the development, their financial contribution and Steiner’s inability to get signed commitments from anchor tenants and refine the design pushed back the ground-breaking, Steiner said.
Then, he said the commissioner’s attorney began asking for letters of intent from retailers, the cinema operator, as well as the apartment, hotel and office developers.
“I wanted to see ink,” said Commissioner T.C. Rogers, who is also a developer. “It’s not a matter of being skeptical. It’s just a matter of being diligent. Steiner is an impressive guy who has an excellent track record. We would like nothing better than the project to go ahead.”
Rogers said he was not aware of the Dillard’s development and other changes Steiner unveiled to The Enquirer this week.
The county’s contribution depends on the value of the development, Rogers said.
Liberty Township has offered $5 million toward infrastructure improvements so they are watching the changes at Liberty Center with a close eye, said Trustee Christine Matacic.
“We want to make sure it’s done right. We want to make sure it’s good for the long-term benefit, not just for the developer, but for the community,” she said.