A project to construct "spec" buildings that Canal Winchester city officials believe could deliver 400 to 500 new jobs will get a property-tax break as part of an agreement between the city and the school district.

Canal Winchester City Council unanimously approved a 15-year, 100% tax exemption on any new construction for the Opus Group, a Minneapolis-based commercial real-estate and development company that plans to build two buildings totaling approximately 800,000 square feet at 5080 Gender Road, west of the Winchester Square shopping center.

"Our goal is to have the most people working at the site, with the highest amount of payroll," city Development Director Lucas Haire told City Council members during their April 1 meeting. "Their goal is to make sure they're going to have certainty of real-estate tax abatement across 15 years, even if there are potential vacancies in the building."

Haire said the company's investment in the project is approximately $40 million.

The agreement approved by council and the Canal Winchester Board of Education calls for the creation of a community reinvestment area, which requires the school district to receive no less than 50 percent of what it would have received without the property-tax abatement, Haire said.

Opus, which committed to creating no fewer than 80 jobs, with a payroll of no less than $2.4 million, has agreed to pay the school district $40,000 annually. However, beginning in the fourth year, the company will pay a supplement in lieu of taxes, ensuring that the district receives no less than $100,000 per year.

The agreement also says the district will receive 25% of the income taxes generated from the site, up to the amount it would have received from the properties without the abatement, which is estimated at $268,000 annually.

Currently, the land is generating approximately $10,000 in total taxes, Haire said.

According to the application approved by the Canal Winchester Planning and Zoning Commission, one building would be 258,346 square feet with 202 parking spaces, 28 docks, two drive-in doors and 121 spaces for trailer parking.

The second building would be 555,907 square feet with 436 parking spaces, 56 docks, four drive-in doors and 150 spaces for trailer parking.

Doug Swain, representing The Opus Group, has said the area provides a good fit, with access and proximity to U.S. Route 33.

City Council is expected to act on an ordinance to rezone the 69-acre tract from exceptional use to limited manufacturing in May.

Canal Winchester City Council also approved a tax-increment financing agreement for infrastructure, including the extension of Winchester Boulevard, water lines, street lighting and storm sewers. The city's portion of the nearly $1.1 million estimated cost would be capped at $600,000, Haire said.

Ahead of the April 1 vote, Councilman Patrick Lynch questioned the need for swift approval of the CRA agreement.

"Obviously, this is a huge concession, and we want jobs here," he said. "There's a lot to consider. Why are we doing an emergency vote on this? A Cliff Notes version of this would've been helpful. It's a little challenging to me. I hate to rush something like this."

"We have a company that's willing to invest $40 million in our community," Haire responded. "To me, it sends a very bad message to others who might be wanting to invest that you're not familiar enough with this."

According to city planners, the land has been planned for industrial development for approximately 15 years. It was annexed into Canal Winchester in 1964 before being rezoned in 1988 as part of the Winchester Square development.

In 2007, the site was rezoned again, this time to exceptional use, as part of an agreement to expand the Winchester Square Shopping Center. The owners indicated at the time that any future development of the land would require a rezoning request.

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