It isn't what originally was envisioned for 58 acres on the east side of Leap Road between Davidson Road and Anson Drive nearly a decade ago, but Hilliard leaders say they are happy with the result.

Hickory Chase, which was approved almost a decade ago as the site for a luxury senior-citizen community by Baltimore-based Erickson Communities, has become a mixed-use development that is, according to Hilliard City Council President Nathan Painter, "essential" to the city.

Construction is underway along Leap Road, where the Greyson at Hickory Chase, an Ardent Communities development of 22 buildings and almost 500 apartments, is rising next to the new two-story Hilliard branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, which is expected to open next year.

Mayor Don Schonhardt said despite the inconvenience when Erickson halted construction in 2009 shortly before filing for bankruptcy, Hickory Chase's new purpose will benefit more residents and will generate more jobs and income-tax revenue than it would have as a retirement community only.

However, a retirement community still will be included in Hickory Chase, Schonhardt said.

Construction of a 150-unit retirement complex is nearing completion and the developer, Greenwich Investors Hickory Chase LLC, is expected to sell it to another entity to operate, he said.

"The current development will provide a better opportunity to attract more jobs (and) will be a more diverse development than the city would have realized under the Erickson model," he said.

Erickson held a groundbreaking ceremony at the site in April 2008. At the time, Erickson officials reported that 230 residents had paid deposits to reside at Hickory Chase and the company had 19 senior-citizen communities in 11 states.

However, construction was suspended without warning May 11, 2009, with the two-story clubhouse nearly complete. Erickson soon filed for bankruptcy protection and the property sat vacant the next four years until California-based Greenwich Investors purchased the property.

Two years later, in 2015, City Council and the Hilliard school board approved a tax-increment-financing district for the land and converted a 10-year, 75 percent TIF that was established in 2005 into a 30-year nonschool TIF, authorized a purchase agreement between the city and Greenwich Investors and established a revenue-sharing agreement among all applicable Franklin County taxing districts.

Painter said then the revitalization of Hickory Chase was "essential to the continued growth and overall economic health" of Hilliard.

Anchors underway

The undisputed anchor of Hickory Chase is expected to be the new library branch. It is scheduled to open next summer, said Ben Zenitsky, a spokesman for the Columbus Metropolitan Library.

Hilliard purchased the 60,000-square-foot structure intended to be Erickson's clubhouse from Greenwich Investors for $6 million and gave it to the library system to renovate as its new branch.

The new branch will be three times the size of the 20,000-square-foot Hilliard branch that opened in 1996 at 4772 Cemetery Road.

Patrick Losinski, the CEO of the Columbus Metropolitan Library system, said Hilliard "has changed dramatically" since the branch opened.

"A new 21st-century library, triple the size of the current branch, will be much better equipped to meet the evolving needs of our customers," he said.

The $15.8 million Hilliard branch will the largest in the 22-library system when it opens, Zenitsky said.

The new branch will resemble library leaders' vision of a 21st-century library, he said.

Part of that will involve crews cutting out a section of the second-floor foundation to create a two-floor, open-air atrium and stairwell, said David Kovac, a project engineer for Turner Construction Co.

The branch will have the typical amenities Columbus Metropolitan Library incorporates into its new branches as part of its 2020 plan. Those include private study rooms, a homework help center, a cafe and a fireplace, but Hilliard's branch will have at least one distinctive feature, Zenitsky said.

What was intended to be a pool in Erickson's clubhouse will be made into what resembles a greenhouse, he said. The glass-enclosed room will have outdoor-style furnishings to resemble a patio, he said.

"It was the best use we determined for it and we think it provides a wonderful experience for our customers," Zenitsky said.

Outside, the library will have a drive-thru drop-off slot but will not feature, as originally planned, a drive-up window where customers can pick up reserved materials, he said.

Meanwhile, the first residents at the Greyson at Hickory Chase moved into the community in August and 64 apartments are leased, according to Jeff French, director of sales and marketing for Ardent Communities.

Four units are finished and all 22 units and 492 apartments are expected to be completed by spring 2018, he said.

"We are excited to be in the Hilliard community," French said.

Marketing continues

Greenwich Investors continues to market the remainder of the unimproved property.

Todd Lyle, director of operations for California-based MBB Properties and Greenwich Investors, said the owners "are continuing to market" Hickory Chase and it is unlikely Greenwich Investors would retain ownership of any of the property.

"We continue to look at opportunities (for development)," Lyle said.

The planned-unit-development text for Hickory Chase includes such permitted uses as up to 500 non-age-restricted apartments -- a condition met by the Greyson -- and financial institutions, medical and dental offices, health-care uses, restaurants and care services, such as salons, florists or bakeries, said John Talentino, Hilliard's city planner.

"As with many mixed-use developments such as these, the apartments come first, and then the office and the retail," he said.

The rest of the land is zoned commercial and office and retail uses would reduce the effects of traffic, he said.

The remainder of the land to be developed is east of Hickory Chase and access to it would come from Britton Parkway, Schonhardt said.

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