Saturday, September 27, 2003

Cities to debate mall aid

Fairfield wants to discuss Forest Fair tax package

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FAIRFIELD - Before going along with an $18 million incentive deal for transformation of a mall, this city's leaders want to know what's in it for the people who live in Fairfield.

City Council wants to meet with officials of Virginia-based The Mills Corp. who are re-developing the mall, and Forest Park City Council, who also is being asked to sign off on a proposed 30-year tax credit, said Fairfield Councilman Mark Scharringhausen. The Mills Corp. is developer of Cincinnati Mills, formerly the Forest Fair Mall.

The tax incentive needs the blessing of both Fairfield and Forest Park leaders. The mall site straddles Forest Park in Hamilton County and Fairfield in Butler County, plus three school districts.

Overall, the redevelopment plan for the mall is a good one, Fairfield leaders say. Mills officials, they say, have the best plan attempted so far to revitalize the mall, which has struggled since opening in the late 1980s.

But Fairfield officials still want to know exactly what public improvements will be made before they OK the deal, Scharringhausen said.

Tax increment financing, or TIF, districts capture extra tax revenue generated when real estate improvements raise property values.

The TIF request originally was for $24 million; it was whittled down after Forest Park, Fairfield and the three school districts raised concerns about the high cost, said Kimm Coyner, Fairfield's economic development manager.

The tax credit will pay for improvements on the mall's existing parking garage in Fairfield and the existing parking lot in Forest Park, she said. There also will be retention ponds in both jurisdictions, as well as other improvements.

In August, Mills' plan to borrow money through the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority for renovations received the go-ahead from both the Cincinnati City Council and Hamilton County Board of Commissioners.

Cincinnati Councilman John Cranley said he wants to see the mall redeveloped for the good of the region.

"Frankly, it's sort of an anti-sprawl decision," he said.

"It will make (the) mall competitive with some of the proposed shopping centers that area out way father north in the more farmland area."

The Mills Corp. bought the mall last year for nearly $70 million and plan to spend another $70 million fixing it up.

About 1.5 million square feet of retail, dining and entertainment should open in the spring.


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