When winter began, the Commons at Royal Landing apartment complex stood empty, its 42 buildings a stagnant ghost town.
Now, as spring dawns, the land on the south side of East Broad Street, just west of South Hamilton Road, is flat, bare and ready for the future.
Whitehall officials are continuing to take the required steps to make a reality of Norton Crossing, a mixed-use development planned for the site.
Demolition of the apartment complex began Dec. 15; then, Development Director Zach Woodruff said it would wrap up by the end of the first quarter in 2018 -- a target the city met.
"It's all down and the entire site is clear. Just some backfilling remains to be done," Woodruff said March 30.
The cost of the demolition -- estimated at almost $1.5 million -- was funded with a grant from the Central Ohio Community Investment Corp. through the Ohio Housing Finance Agency. The grant, Woodruff said, was among the largest such grants for a demolition project awarded in the United States.
The next step is to rezone the 17-acre parcel and two adjacent parcels.
Whitehall City Council was expected to act April 3 to rezone almost 20 acres from three different zoning districts to planned unit development, Woodruff said.
The parcels will be rezoned from apartment district, limited commercial district and general commercial district to planned unit development, Woodruff said.
The parcels encompass the 17-acre site that was the Commons at Royal Landing, as well as 1 acre at 115 Shumaker Lane where an apartment building once stood -- purchased by the city for $25,000 and demolished in August 2015 -- and another 1-acre parcel owned by the Whitehall Community Investment Corp.
Together, the parcels will be developed by Continental Realty as the $50 million mixed-use development.
"We expect construction (of Norton Crossing) to begin at the end of summer or early fall," Woodruff said.
Norton Crossing is planned to include restaurants, housing and offices, as well as a pavilion, a fountain and public green space, early renderings of the project show.
The city's planning commission recommended approval of the rezoning March 8.
City leaders expect to open an access point to Norton Crossing from South Hamilton Road, near Fairway Boulevard, but that would require the city to purchase a retail center.
Eugene Fletcher, owner of the Broad and Hamilton Plaza at 51-91 S. Hamilton Road, previously voiced opposition to accepting the city's offer of $1.25 million to purchase the 0.66-acre plot.
The Shrimp Hut and Tacos Fogoncito are among the occupants of the center.
In October, City Council members authorized the city to seek eminent domain to appropriate the parcel for the purpose of constructing a public road, after making an initial offer of $920,000 to Fletcher.
Woodruff said the city will continue to negotiate with Fletcher but is prepared to use eminent domain if necessary.
"To me, this isn't about eminent domain -- it's the city wanting to build an access road to help a private developer," Fletcher said in January.
Woodruff said March 30 he is confident a resolution will be reached by the end of April.