Hilliard Northwest News

Columbus developer buys Hickory Chase

Deal for bonds, properties in court-ordered sale totals more than $26 million

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Windsor Communities, a Columbus-based developer, has invested $26 million to purchase Hickory Chase.

The 87-acre parcel was intended to be a premier retirement community, but instead was foreclosed on and since 2009 has sat abandoned on the south side of Davidson Road, between Leap Road and Britton Parkway.

"We are pleased it has been purchased and look forward to working with the developer to bring another quality development to our city," said David Meeks, Hilliard's economic development director. "I expect we will see a mixed-use development with some retail and offices, and a variety of commercial uses."

Windsor Communities reached a "negotiated settlement" with seven investors holding $24 million in bonds, Meeks said.

The negotiated settlement for the bond purchase was $18.1 million, Meeks said.

Following the successful negotiation for the purchase of the bonds, Windsor Communities, in a court-ordered sale, purchased the 87-acre tract for $8.26 million.

The sale was ordered Aug. 22 by Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Michael Holbrook.

It was the second attempt at a court-ordered sale after an auction in June failed to achieve the initial reserve minimum bid of $9.9 million.

"Once there was a settlement on the bonds, that opened the door for the sale of the property," said Meeks, adding the owner of the bonds and the property had to be the same to make development feasible.

The bonds were part of the Hickory Chase Community Authority and funded the construction of extensions of Britton Parkway, Anson Drive and other infrastructure to support what was planned to be a 1,600-unit, luxury retirement complex built by Baltimore-based Erickson Communities.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held April 10, 2008. The first phase called for a 145-unit residential unit to open in spring 2009, with additional units to open as needed.

Hickory Chase executives then predicted all the phases would be finished in seven years, at which time the facility would employ 1,000 people, generate an annual payroll of $30 million and result in property tax evaluation of about $100 million.

But by the following year, Erickson Communities officials were explaining that the company's 20th development had been postponed indefinitely because of the economy.

Construction was suspended May 11, 2009. A single residential unit and a clubhouse were about 80 percent competed and no further work was done.

A receiver was named and for the past four years, Hilliard has generally been a bystander as investors and attorneys meted out divergent interests stemming from the foreclosure.

Hilliard Mayor Don Schonhardt said he met with Alex Dorsey, owner of Windsor Communities, in early August, prior to the scheduled court-ordered auction and sale.

Meeks and Law Director Tracy Bradford also attended the session.

"(Dorsey) was interested in hearing our vision for the parcel," said Schonhardt, adding that while Dorsey did not share specific ideas or a timeline, given the investment Dorsey made, he expects the city will see a plan "sooner rather than later."

Meeks concurred.

"I think (the planning and zoning commission) will see a land-use plan before the end of the year," he said.

Meeks said it is likely the existing building would be used for senior housing.

The building would have about 400 units, but that would be the extent of the retirement community, Meeks said.

The developer would need to seek a modification to the land-use plan because it currently calls for residences.

"First, (Windsor Communities) will need to present a land-use plan and get a (planned-unit development) modification," Meeks said, after which a specific development plan would be presented.

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