Domain editor

University Heights could use eminent domain to speed up pace of University Square negotiations

UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, Ohio – City council unanimously approved two items at its meeting Thursday (September 23) that could be classified as “just in case” legislation regarding the redevelopment of University Square.

The Council has agreed to engage the appraisal and advisory services of Ritley, Huber LLC, which is a necessary step if the city ultimately decides to use a prominent estate.

Mayor Michael Dylan Brennan said the prominent area would be the “nuclear option” if the ongoing negotiations between Macy’s, 2201 Warrensville Center Road, and the partnership to redevelop University Square, KL Holdings LLC, did not work like the city waiting for him.

Brennan said negotiations between the developer and Macy’s over the site’s parking lot and considerations for a planned yard are expected to be completed in the spring so that redevelopment towards mixed use – a mix of shops and apartments – way.

Explaining the matter after the meeting concluded, Brennan blamed Macy’s for the delay.

“The developer is trying to build apartments and new businesses, but the attitude towards mixed use is different from what it was 20 years ago,” he said.

“Twenty years ago, you wouldn’t have built apartments next to a Macy’s and Target (which like Macy’s owns its University Square building) like this. By today’s standards, this is considered an ideal.

“But we have an old agreement (dating from the construction of the University Square) which does not allow it, and there must be negotiations on how the (future) parking lot is going to be used, what is the parking lot will look like, who is going to be responsible (for that) – even (a problem of) demolishing part of the parking lot to open a yard.

“All of these things need to be worked out,” Brennan said. “Now Target has it all sorted out (with the developer). (Target) worked diligently throughout the pandemic. Macy’s had told Target that whatever you work with the new developers would be fine with us, we’ll just sign on the dotted line.

“But when (Macy’s) got here, they didn’t follow through on what they said they were going to do. Target walked over to Macy’s and said, ‘You should have been here from the start. Now what are we going to do?’ “, did he declare.

“This deal should have been done in May, when Target reached an agreement. Instead, Macy’s filed a lawsuit and they are now forced to be at the table due to the court process. But, at the end of the day, if they don’t come to an agreement with the developers, the city is ready to step in and consider the eminent domain process (for the garage and surrounding property) to move that process forward.

Brennan said if a prominent estate takes place, the city does not intend to keep the plots under discussion for an extended period of time, but to do so simply to facilitate the process. The appraisal of the property is a necessary step towards the eminent domain, if the city goes in this direction.

“Cedar Center South (across Warrensville Center Road from University Square) just sold for $ 38 million,” said Brennan, “because it’s a successful development here in the city of University Heights. And, meanwhile, we’re stuck trying to get out of square one because Macy’s didn’t negotiate all along the way they should have been.

Earlier in the board meeting, Brennan called the hang-up a delay caused by Macy’s and KL’s inability to reconcile. City Councilor Justin Gould said Brennan was being too kind to Macy’s by putting it in those terms.

“It’s a Macy’s issue, not a developer issue,” Gould told the board.

Gould agreed that Macy’s had previously agreed to accept the deal Target reached, but then made further demands.

“They could have been in the process for over a year,” Gould said of Macy’s.

“The city cannot allow this site to be maintained in its current state,” Gould said, adding that he had serious concerns about the safety of the garage area.

“I have full confidence in the developer and Target to make the repairs and upgrades they outlined in their plan if they were to make a deal with Macy’s,” he said. “And if Macy’s wants to stop them from doing this, the city has to step in.”

KL plans to build 180-200 market-priced apartments in University Square, reconfigure buildings and add a courtyard and amenities, such as an outdoor kitchen area, volleyball courts and other things possible.

Brennan said Macy’s is now at the negotiating table, but is not acting in a rush. He agreed with Gould’s comments and, regarding the unsafe conditions, said city inspectors and fire inspectors also have safety concerns.

“Nobody wants a Surfside-Miami at University Heights,” Brennan said, referring to the the collapse of a condominium in Surfside, Florida., in June. “And we’ll be damn sure that doesn’t happen.”

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