After more than two years of preparation, planning and changes, Witness Hospitality nearly has the green light to transform its Holiday Inn site in Worthington into the Village at Worthington Square.
The mixed-use development at 7007 N. High St. is expected to include a 111-room, four-story Hampton Inn & Suites, with up to five other buildings that will contain 15,000 to 19,000 square feet of office space and more than 20,000 square feet for restaurants and small service-oriented businesses.
Worthington's architectural review board on Feb. 22 approved the project's conditional-use permit and developers now need only a small series of variances from the city's board of zoning appeals to move forward. Those include approval to build a four-story hotel rather than the three allowed in the zoning designation of highway and automotive services and additional landscaping and more screening for neighbors to the west, according to Lee Brown, Worthington's planning and building director.
Brown said the board of zoning appeals likely would discuss the topic in April.
Witness Hospitality will continue to operate the Holiday Inn through July, when rights to the brand expire. Brown and Witness CEO Ohm Patel said they expect demolition of the 232-room property to begin later this year.
Property managers from Witness, formerly known as Alliance Hospitality, announced the planned redevelopment in February 2016.
Since that announcement, plans have changed numerous times, with shifts in the number of hotels involved, the types of amenities surrounding those hotels and even a planned rezoning.
But with a conditional-use permit in hand, Witness CEO Ohm Patel said he is happy the city and his company have "come to a really good understanding."
"We're excited that we were able to kind of get everything together, get everything on the same page and push this thing forward," Patel said.
Brown said the project has been a good example of compromise between a city and a developer.
He said he believes residents and Worthington City Council or city board members who had concerns about the project largely had their issues addressed, and he expects both sides to be happy with the outcome.
"I think you probably still have some angst with the unknown, but everyone seemed a little happier," Brown said. "I think it's a great compromise of what the city wants to see, what the residents want to see and what the developer would like to do. It's been a long two years but, I think, a good two years."
Patel originally aimed to rezone the site to a new, mixed-use designation created by the Wilson Bridge Corridor Zoning Plan in 2016.
But in the summer of 2017, Patel told ThisWeek he believed the project was in danger of being "held hostage for political gain." However, he said at the time, he did not want to go into detail about whose "political gain" he was referencing or what prompted his statements, though he specified that he had had no problems with Worthington City Council members or city officials.
City Council member Bonnie Michael also said at the time she had "no idea" what political concerns Patel might have.
When asked recently about the nature of those concerns, Patel responded that having closer conversations with stakeholders has made him feel better about that topic and it had been "squashed."
"Business and commerce lives in the world of email and text to the point where things that may be really small get blown out of proportion," he said. "So I just took the time to sit down and have conversations with people one on one and face to face. I think people understood where I was coming from and I understood where the needs of the public and everyone was coming from."
Brown said the final form of the project contains most of the elements for which city leaders hoped.
"It's truly a mix of office and restaurants and hotel now," he said. "That's really what we wanted to see. It's not saturating the market with retail, especially with the (Shops at Worthington Place) mall to the north. So we think it's a good step forward."
Rather than several retail stores, as originally planned, the new project primarily will consist of "fast-casual" eateries and smaller businesses, such as barbers, salons or gyms, Patel said.
"It's going to be based on food and personal use," he said. "It's all stuff that hotel guests are going to be interested in, as well as the local community."