Sunday, January 18, 2004

Union Centre plan changes

Trustees approve new seven-building retail complex

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WEST CHESTER TWP. - After a two-year delay, developers are taking a different avenue to bring an upscale retail center into the heart of Union Centre.

A seven-building cityscape "Towne Centre" complex with wide sidewalks, bisected by a main street, has replaced plans for "The Avenue," a horseshoe-shaped shopping center approved by township trustees in 2001.

Construction could begin in March or April with a US Bank office flanked by stores along Union Centre Boulevard, if trustees approve the design change Jan. 27, says Chris Wunnenberg, development director for Schumacher Dugan Construction Inc.

Trustees last week expressed their support for the concept over the previous one - described as "a big box" with "a parking field" - for the 25 acres at the northwest corner of Union Centre Boulevard and Muhlhauser Road.

"I like the plan. It's a good mix of ideas," says Trustee Jose Alvarez.

Schumacher Dugan abandoned The Avenue concept when its partner, Atlanta-based Cousins Properties, failed to bring in a national anchor. Cousins wanted The Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch and a Jacobson's store, but that company went bankrupt, Wunnenberg says.

"Unfortunately, the timing and ability to go forward with plans was not possible," Wunnenberg says.

During the two-year delay, Continental Real Estate lured a Barnes & Noble bookstore and Cucina Bravo! Italiana restaurant to the Streets of West Chester across I-75, next to the Rave Motion Pictures theaters.

The proposed Towne Centre will have 182,000 square feet under roof, or 15 percent less than the plan originally approved by trustees. It will include a mix of local and national fashion, jewelry and home decor stores, restaurants and perhaps a spa, Wunnenberg says.

"We hope to get some national retailers, but this first phase is filled locally," Wunnenberg says.

The Towne Centre main entrance road will end at Centre Pointe Drive, near the site for the township's proposed $30 million Community and Recreation Center and two blocks away from Lakota West High School.

To the east will be three large lots for restaurants. Two banks, Huntington and First Financial, will build to the west along Union Centre Boulevard.

Among the trustees' 17 conditions for approval is submission of a traffic impact study from the Butler County Engineer's Office. Easy access to a Community and Recreation Center in that area also was a big concern with residents, according to a consultant's report to trustees last week.

"We don't want to end up with another crowded thoroughfare with a lot of traffic that cause other problems for ourselves," Alvarez says.

Trustee George Lang, owner of Jag's restaurant in Union Center, called the retail center "the crown jewel" of the township.


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