Bexley City Council unanimously approved an ordinance for the city's Bexley Community Investment Corp. to enter into a contract to purchase the Bexley Square Shopping Center from Casto for $1.8 million during action at its June 11 meeting.
Mayor Ben Kessler said negotiations are ongoing between Continental Real Estate Cos. and grocery retailer Giant Eagle to become the anchor tenant of the shopping center.
"They're moving forward" with negotiating a lease, Kessler said.
Continental Real Estate Cos. chairman Frank Kass presented preliminary plans for the Giant Eagle store to council in mid-May. Plans call for a two-story, 30,000-square-foot supermarket on the current site of City Hall, 2242 E. Main St. The city would lease the site to Continental and make infrastructure improvements to access the Bexley Square Shopping Center, which is located just west of City Hall.
Using money from the lease and tax-increment financing on the new supermarket, the city would either lease office space or build a new city hall.
The agreement is structured so that if Giant Eagle doesn't end up signing the lease, the city will be refunded $20,000 that is part of the purchase contract.
"If Giant Eagle doesn't come through, we're left with some earnest money, which is $20,000," Kessler said.
Council suspended the rules and approved the ordinance as emergency legislation so that the purchase contract can be completed immediately, rather than observing the 30-day waiting period required for legislation that is passed without a suspension of the rules, said council member Richard Sharp, who sponsored the legislation.
Giant Eagle and Continental are expected to present the city with a preliminary version of the lease that the retailer is to sign before the end of July, Kessler said.
Kass told council in May that the Giant Eagle store could open in March 2015.
In other business, council voted unanimously to increase the rates that residents pay for water and sewer services by 6.56 percent, equivalent to an approximately $15 quarterly fee for the average water and sewer bill. The revenue generated by the increase will be used to replace aging infrastructure at a projected cost of $114 million over the next 20 years, Kessler said.
Council passed the rate increase after much discussion about how to adequately fund long-overdue infrastructure improvements and avoid "sticker shock" among residents. Council ultimately rejected higher increases of 8 percent to 10 percent.
Councilman Mark Masser said he could not support a rate increase of higher than 6.56 percent because he did not want to burden families who want to devote resources to schools.
"There's a lot of young couples that are making the sacrifice. They want to be in this community," he said. "Be sensitive to the fact that they want to spend money on the schools. ... Columbus can raise water rates at any time and what do we do? We pass it on to the citizens."
Councilman Matt Lampke said the rate increase is necessary because of the poor condition of the infrastructure.
"It doesn't matter how good the schools are," Lampke said. "If we can't get water into our homes, if we can't get sewage out of our homes, we are not going to have homes -- viable homes that people want to live in."
Hale said the 6.56 percent rate increase is a first step in generating revenue to upgrade the deteriorating infrastructure, and council has the option of implementing further increases in the future as needed.
The 6.56 percent increase "will go a long way to replacing our infrastructure," Kessler said, "and we have the ability to adjust over time."