Another development attempt at the Liberty Ford site on Aurora Road has fallen through.
Michael Herrick, son of Liberty Ford founder Jim Herrick, confirmed Tuesday that Omni Properties out of Beachwood backed out of the $3 million purchase agreement after losing confidence in the company’s ability to come to an agreement with the city on the best economic use of the property.
Omni Properties recently developed the $35 million Vitalia Active Adult Community nearby on Kruse Drive.
“What was communicated to me is they didn’t feel that further investment in the site was worth their time because they didn’t see themselves being able to come to an economically viable agreement for the future of the site with the city,” Mr. Herrick said.
“If the residents want something other than an empty building on that site, they are going to have to convince the city to work with the developer in a way that makes it a successful project for everybody,” Mr. Herrick added.
Omni Vice President Gary Biales said that, “in this COVID-era, it is hard to put projects together, especially because of retailers and restaurants who are holding off on making decisions.
“Even though we liked the project, and we still do, the owner would not grant us an extension to allow us to continue to pursue it.”
“In the city’s master plan, they were looking for restaurants, little shops and walking paths within the shopping areas,” Mr. Biales continued. “The issue we had at this time is finding those little shops and restaurants that were willing to commit to development.”
Mr. Biales said Omni was looking at what the city wanted and also possibly building apartments, “which was in their plan when they rezoned it.”
He said of agreeing on density, “we never got that far. They (the city) knew we wanted to do a multi-use project, but it does take time to put those projects together.
“We needed the time and we weren’t given it,” Mr. Biales explained.
Omni is only 120 days into a 365 day due diligence period, so they did not request or need an extension, Mr. Herrick said. “They asked us to waive the provision of the contract that required them to deposit 1 percent of the purchase price to continue going forward.
“While I understand that everyone has been affected in the business community by COVID-19, this contract was signed at the end of April where we took all of those factors into account,” Mr. Herrick said. “The reason we require that provision is so that a developer can’t tie up the property for a year with no hope of the project coming to fruition.
“I feel it is in the best interest of the community to re-market and re-list the property if that is the case,” Mr. Herrick said. “I communicated that to Omni and their response was to cancel the contract.”
This represents the second attempt at developing the site.
Late last year, a month after city voters approved the rezoning of the site at the ballot, Industrial Commercial Properties based in Solon backed out of their agreement to purchase the property for $2 million. That was due to concerns about their return on investment and unknown issues associated with the cost of environmental studies on the site.
The 6.5-acre Liberty Ford parcel has been vacant since April of 2018 after the dealership built a $14 million campus on Route 43 in the City of Aurora. The dealership pulled out of Solon due to an impasse in negotiations under former Mayor Susan A. Drucker’s administration to expand the site.
Mayor Edward H. Kraus said Tuesday that the Omni deal was a private sale between two private entities and the city is not party to the sale. He said the city has had multiple meetings and conversations with Omni concerning their original proposal and some of the things the city would like to see as part of a mixed use project. That includes walkability, retail, restaurants and green space, Mayor Kraus said.
He said the residential component that was part of Omni’s plan was “definitely in line with what is in the zoning ordinance and also what the public voted on.”
Issue 65 on last fall’s ballot rezoned the 6.5 acre Liberty Ford site as well as the entire area surrounding it, amounting to 21.76 acres, to a mixed use district that allows the land to be developed for such uses as restaurants, retail, residential and office space. According to the new zoning, there is a cap of 200 maximum units allowed for residential, a component Mr. Herrick has opposed all along.