Nearly a year after the city of Whitehall purchased the beleaguered Commons at Royal Landing apartment complex for $5 million, City Council is ready to turn it over to Continental Real Estate, clearing the way for large-scale development.

Whitehall bought the Eisenhower-era complex in April 2016. On April 4, the city is expected to transfer its ownership to the Columbus-based commercial developer.

The city will hand over the land and buildings for $1. Continental will assume the costs associated with demolition and remediation, as well as a significant investment -- estimated at $50 million -- to redevelop the site, said Whitehall Development Director Zach Woodruff.

Continental plans to transform the site at the southwest corner of East Broad Street and South Hamilton Road into a 20-acre campus with upscale apartments, office and retail uses, and a community area for outdoor recreation.

Tenants at the Commons at Royal Landing had until Feb. 28 to find new accommodations after the city purchased the 270-unit apartment complex last spring -- but most residents had packed up much earlier.

"If anyone wanted to leave before their lease expired, we were happy to oblige without any penalty," said Woodruff, adding that numerous tenants did just that.

Other tenants were evicted for not paying their rent, Woodruff said.

On the last weekend of February, every parking lot in the 42-building apartment complex was deserted; windows and doorways were covered with plywood as if a hurricane were bearing down.

Couches were left behind several buildings along with mattresses and televisions with shattered screens.

The only sign of life at the site was the line of vehicles buzzing along Fairway Boulevard between East Broad Street and South Hamilton Road.

Demolition of the 17-acre site is expected to begin in May, Woodruff said.

In its place, city leaders envision a mixed-use campus with upscale apartments, offices, and recreational area to be called Norton Crossing.

Mayor Kim Maggard called the proposed development -- whose name is a nod to the site's former life as an airfield -- the "cornerstone" for redevelopment along the East Broad Street corridor.

To the west, Kroger is considering a new store in the Town and Country Shopping Center; to the east, office and retail development is planned for the former site of the Four Seasons Golf Center, which shut its doors last week, Woodruff said.

Legislation authorizing Maggard to transfer ownership of the Commons at Royal Landing site to Continental Real Estate, as well as a 1-acre parcel at 115 Shumaker Lane where another apartment building once stood, was scheduled for introduction and a first reading March 7 by Whitehall City Council.

Whitehall purchased the condemned Shumaker Lane building for $25,000 and demolished it in August 2015.

That parcel, along with another 1-acre parcel owned by the Whitehall Community Improvement Corp., will join the former Commons at Royal Landing site to create Norton Crossing.

Woodruff said the development will have an "urban, walkable feel" that will provide "green space for the entire community" and possibly a dog park.

"We see something good in this," said Continental Real Estate founder Frank Kass, who in December shared preliminary designs for Norton Crossing.

"What is there today is not attractive," Woodruff said.

Maggard added demolition of the "ugly buildings" will be her biggest step yet in her continuing effort to combat blight in the city.

City leaders said continued zoning violations and crime were motivations to purchase the property.

On Nov. 16, 2015, a 28-year-old Youngstown man was shot and killed on Eastway Court; on Feb. 27, 2014, a toddler was killed at an Eastway Court apartment after he tipped a stove onto himself; the oven's door reportedly had been left open in an effort to heat the apartment.

Active zoning complaints against the previous owners of the apartment complex were dismissed as part of the city's purchase agreement.

"We are keeping in communication with Continental. There is a lot to do as we work collectively to get a (development) plan in place," said Woodruff, adding he does not expect final renderings to differ greatly from those seen in December.

Rezoning and approval of the city's planning and zoning commission will be required to make Norton Crossing a reality, Woodruff said.

There is no timeline to present plans to the commission for consideration, Woodruff said.

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