City, school board agree to purchase option for likely data-center site

A. Kevin Corvo
ThisWeek group
The Hilliard school board on Oct. 12 unanimously approved an option-to-buy contract with the city of Hilliard for the sale of 20 acres on land known locally as the Grener tract. The sale is contingent upon the city selling land it already owns on part of the same tract between Cosgray and Leppert roads and the 20 acres owned by the district, said board member Paul Lambert.

The Hilliard school board on Oct. 12 unanimously approved an option-to-buy contract with the city of Hilliard for the sale of 20 acres on land known locally as the Grener tract.

It could lead to a new data-center complex for the city, according to the document approved by the school board and the city's previously stated intentions for the site.

The sale is contingent upon the city finding a buyer for 84 acres it already owns on part of the same tract between Cosgray and Leppert roads and the 20 acres owned by the district, said board member Paul Lambert.

“It’s not a done deal,” Lambert said.

The intent is for the city to sell all 104 acres to a developer for a data-center project, according to the document approved by the school board.

On July 13, Hilliard City Council had rezoned 84 acres of the Grener tract owned by the city and the 20 owned by the school district from a support-facilities district to a planned-unit-development district that would allow a data center.

The city had planned to build the Grener Sports Complex on the site, but earlier this year, after a study indicated it would cost about $38 million to build out the complex, officials opted against it.

City Manager Michelle Crandall said in July that Hilliard does not have the financing available to advance development of the land for recreational purposes in the near future, but a data center would be a "good secondary use" for the 104 acres.

The option-to-buy contract would require that the district receive either $120,000 per acre or the average per acre for the entire sale to a developer – whichever is greater, according to both Lambert and the document approved by the school board.

A price of $120,000 per acre for 20 acres would net $2.4 million, according to ThisWeek's calculations.

However, when asked about the sale price after the Oct. 12 board meeting, David Ball, director of communications for Hilliard, provided a higher figure.

"What the board's action did was to approve a real-estate-option contract that, if the city can find a buyer and work out all the details, would mean the land would be sold to the city for $2.8 million," Ball said via email.

At $2.8 million, the price would be $140,000 per acre on average, according to ThisWeek's calculations.

When asked Oct. 13 if the city had a potential buyer and, if so, with whom it was negotiating, Ball responded: "We have no specifics to announce on any potential buyer/deal at this time."

After another inquiry about potential negotiations Oct. 13, Ball replied: "There's no signed deal on the table."

The entire Grener tract – named for the family who once lived there between Cosgray and Leppert roads and south of Hayden Run Road – came into the school district's possession about 17 years ago. In 2003, it purchased 124 acres for $50,000 per acre from the Grener family as a potential site for Bradley High School, which instead opened in 2009 on Walker Road.

In 2014, the city bought 104 acres of the tract from the school district for $4 million.

If purchased, the city would own the entire Grener tract, making it more attractive as a potential data-center site, Ball said.

“We’re buying this land to create a larger single site that we think would be more attractive for a potential data center," he said. "This also simplifies any potential negotiation in that a buyer (or) developer would only need to negotiate with one entity instead of two."

The tract's other 20 acres, which include about 7 acres for Bo Jackson's Elite Sports at 4696 Cosgray Road, were not part of the land rezoned for a data center in July, Ball said.Lambert said the district’s sale of the land would be a “tremendous opportunity,” as it allows the district to sell land the city could develop and “takes some of the pressure off” the district’s need for property-tax revenue.

Meanwhile, when Hilliard secures a buyer, 75% of the net-sale proceeds would be used to replace the land that no longer would be used for recreational purposes, according to an Aug. 24 resolution.

The resolution said 75% of the proceeds would "be dedicated to parkland acquisition, development and associated infrastructure."

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo