A needed amenity is coming to a Worthington site that has been vacant for more than a decade, according to city leaders.

The Kemper House, an Alzheimer's-, dementia- and memory-care facility, has been proposed for the former Worthington Foods site on the northeast corner of Proprietors and Dublin-Granville roads.

Worthington City Council on Jan. 16 approved a rezoning for the site from industrial use to a planned-unit development, known as a PUD. The rezoning will take effect March 19.

The developer of the Kemper House, Westerville-based Griffin 105 Group LLC, needs only approval of a final plan from the city's municipal planning commission and architectural review board to allow the assisted-living development to move forward.

Lee Brown, Worthington's planning and building director, said he also expects Griffin 105 Group to submit a request to combine the plots on the property, which would require approval.

City Council President Bonnie Michael said the services provided by the Kemper House, a Cleveland-based assisted-living brand with facilities in Highland Heights and in Strongsville in northeast Ohio, would be a much-needed addition to Worthington.

"There's a need for those services in our community," she said. "I think the developers have done a really outstanding job of trying to catch the flavor of Worthington in their development and have worked hard to bring something needed to the community. But (they are) doing it in a very tasteful Worthington manner."

The proposed site for the Kemper House mostly has been vacant since the closure of Worthington Foods in 2005.

Condominiums have been built on about half the site, but David McCorkle, the city's economic-development manager, said the land "was supposed to be more of that use" before the economic recession of the late 2000s halted construction.

Although the Kemper House might not drive as much city revenue as condos, McCorkle said, progress is encouraging. He said his department is "excited" about the new development.

"I like to see shovels in the ground and I like to see things happening," he said.

Given the lack of use for the site since 2005, Michael said, it was far past time to revamp the space with a new tenant.

"It's an area that needed to be developed," she said. "I think this type of development fits in with the area with the businesses to the north and residential area across the street."

Many of the businesses to the north are private medical practices.

Greg Cini, president of the Griffin 105 Group, said Worthington was selected with plenty of thought. He echoed Michael's and McCorkle's thoughts on the city as an underserved market for services the Kemper House would provide.

"We actually did a market study on Worthington and found that there was a need in that market for specialized memory care," he said. "We felt that with the type of community it is, it would fit quite well at that location. There are very few standalone (care facilities) in Worthington, so we just felt like it was a great fit."

For some time, the city preferred a commercial use for the site, McCorkle said.

But, he said, the land had been vacant for so long that holding out for a project would generate more revenue for the city would not be worthwhile, especially when the proposed use is a good one.

"In a perfect world, it would have been an office use that maybe generated a higher level of income-tax revenue," he said, "but this is still a great use and the site has been vacant for long enough that it's nice to see something moving forward."

The use doesn't bother Michael, who said she mostly is happy to have a new tenant for the land.

"While we are very income-tax dependent, no businesses have wanted to come into that area," she said. "This seems to be a real good win-win for everybody."

According to plans filed with the city, the Kemper House would have a combination of 54 private and semi-private rooms, with four buildings that total about 50,000 square feet. The facility would host "services, dining, health and wellness and memory functions."

Cini said the Kemper House model is what makes the facility stand out. He said the existing facilities provide a glimpse of what to expect in Worthington.

"At the end of the day, Kemper House has been doing memory care for many years," he said. "They're one of the pioneers of the industry. ... We're just taking their model and bringing it to Worthington. It's very effective in caring for residents with memory impairment."

Cini said he expects the Kemper House to be open "sometime next year," but developers have to have more firm "timelines and price points and all the components of the community" before anything is finalized.

"We just don't want to get over our skis on information," he said. "For us, right now, less is more."

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