The former Grove City site of Star Cinemas, vacant for the past three years, may be occupied by the end of 2019 with apartment buildings.

Grove City Council on Sept. 5 approved a community-reinvestment-area agreement with Evergreen Capital Partners LLC, a joint venture of Fairway Realty and Metropolitan Holdings.

The developer plans to purchase the movie-theater property from 7 Star Entertainment, raze it and build several apartment buildings with a total of 140 units.

The city will grant a 15-year, 100 percent property-tax abatement on the new construction planned for the site at 2384 Stringtown Road.

The approval of the CRA is not an overall approval of the project. The city still will need to approve a development plan.

Council's approval of the CRA agreement was needed to make the project financially feasible, said Mark Catalano, Fairway Realty president. The South-Western Board of Education gave its approval to the CRA agreement at its Aug. 14 meeting.

Star Cinemas in Grove City closed in September 2014.

Evergreen Capital Partners is estimating a total of $9,150,000 in construction costs for the project, including $150,000 for the cost of machinery, equipment, furniture and fixtures.

Construction is targeted to begin in the second quarter of 2018 and be completed by the end of 2019.

Plans for the project "are rather conceptual at this point," Catalano said. "We (won't go) to the detailed planning stages until we move beyond the CRA (approval) due to that being critical to the fiscal feasibility of the project."

In general, the plan is for six buildings with garages, he said. Each building would be a three-story walk-up and the development would also include a clubhouse with pool, he said.

Although he voted to grant the CRA, Councilman Steve Bennett said he has concerns about the proposed apartment project.

"I'm having problems with the concept of apartments" being built in a heavily commercial area such as Stringtown Road, he said.

The initial renderings indicate the apartments would extend further out than the existing movie theater building, Bennett said.

While he understands the developer needs "to maximize square footage and profits, I'm not at this point convinced that putting apartments in that (commercial) area is right for Grove City," he said.

Mixed-use development is a growing trend in central Ohio and across the nation, Catalano said.

"Mixing housing with retail is the demand you're seeing in the marketplace," he said.

The movie theater property has been marketed, so far unsuccessfully, as a commercial property, Catalano said.

One issue impacting its commercial viability is that the property has limited visibility from Stringtown Road, he said.

"Blending in some residential development will strengthen the viability of some of the other retail that is in the area," Catalano said. "Folks will be able to walk to the adjacent retail, the grocery store and nearby restaurants. So that blend from a city standpoint strengthens everything around it."

It's a question of putting in the right commercial development, Bennett said.

If a developer opens a store or restaurant that is appealing to customers, "people will beat feet to it," he said.

Councilman Ted Berry said the developers would need to make sure the detailed plan they bring forward for the apartment project includes sufficient green space.

"I'm not a big fan of a concrete jungle," he said. "If you're putting apartments on this property, you're going to be expected to offer green space."

Catalano said the developers have been in talks for the potential purchase of the Kmart property that is adjacent to the former movie theater site.

"I think Kmart thinks of themselves as Amazon more than Kmart," he said. "So I think that will play out over time."

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