XENIA —The downtown Xenia area has more than 800,000 square feet of vacant buildings and just 25 percent of that space is potentially leasable.
But while the buildings are empty, the proverbial glass is more than half full for city officials.
“It certainly does present an opportunity,” said Xenia Development Department Director Steve Brodsky. “There are some opportunities to do some rehab and get the buildings filled.”
The city retained Geneva Analytics LTD., to do building and site assessments, which began in late 2013. Key considerations were overall condition, occupancy potential, major building infrastructure issues and market opportunities or issues. In all, 78 buildings along Main, Detroit, Second and Third streets, along with the government center and nine additional buildings outside the downtown core, were evaluated.
The assessment concluded that “virtually all” non-government or owner-occupied buildings will require significant renovation and in many cases renovating the entire building will exceed the value and possibly affect financing options and cost recovery through rents. Approximately 146,000 square feet of space was termed substandard.
“They weren’t terribly surprising,” Brodsky said of the results. “When you look at most of the buildings downtown, while the first floors may be occupied, most of them have vacant upper floors.”
Fred Burkhardt, who ran the study for Geneva Analytics, recommended the city’s immediate focus should be on rehabbing and rental of the first floors, while placing a priority on securing buildings from further damage and creating a marketing plan for the buildings.
The city has already begun part of that with a new vacant building ordinance. Owners must register their buildings and show they are actively marketing that building. Failure to do so results in escalating fees with regards to the annual cost of registration, Brodsky said.
Motivating owners to do something about building conditions is the next step.
“We need to look at what programs we can access or create to help fill the gap needed to allow property owners to rehab their buildings in such a way to help attract new tenants,” Brodsky said.
At some point in time this summer, the city hopes the downtown area receives historic district designation from the U.S. National Parks Service. That alone could create up to 45 percent of rehab project costs through various incentives.
“That’s not to say that will solve all the problems or all of them will be able to qualify,” Brodsky said. “(But) that’s a tool that we’ve not easily been able to access.”
Attracting tenants to the area may not be difficult once buildings are rehabbed.
“There are people that are specifically saying we would like to be downtown if possible,” Brodsky said, adding that the city hopes that interest will translate into the creation of space suitable for their needs.
While the Xenia Area Chamber of Commerce doesn’t actively partake in marketing buildings, president/CEO Alan Liming said he is quick to point people in the right direction when they stop in looking for a place for their business.
The question is when will it all happen.
“It’s something that will occur over time,” Brodsky said. “I don’t think anyone thinks that well, in the next three to five years every one of our buildings will be fully rehabbed. And we understand that.”
Added Liming, “People are really working hard to fix that. It’s nice to see the momentum going.”