By Katie Quaranta
Ohio University today will submit a revised agreement to the Ohio Department of Administrative Services that would allow a retirement community to lease university land on Stimson Avenue. Nonprofit developer National Church Residencies will build and maintain the facility, Traditions at Ohio University, if the lease is approved and the developer agrees to the final terms.
The university originally had planned to lease the land to National Church Residencies for $1 per year, but the Department of Administrative Services, which must approve all leases of state university property, recommended that the university re-evaluate that amount. The new document sets the annual lease at $40,000 for the 16-acre property. It also includes a provision for National Church Residencies to provide an additional $20,000 per year in government support payments, which would assist the city of Athens, Athens City Schools and possibly some Athens County projects.
Vice President for Finance and Administration Bill Decatur and his staff based the lease amount on two independent appraisals and the estimated in-kind value the facility would bring to the university.
"We feel comfortable that we're getting full consideration when you combine the amount we will receive for the lease and the value we will receive from the opportunities this provides for students and faculty," Decatur said.
Over the past 20 years, various community groups have attempted to bring a retirement community to the Athens area. Until now, development costs and other factors have hindered those efforts.
Linda Clark, director of the Ohio University Innovation Center, said the retirement community would fill a vital need for many people in the Ohio University and Athens communities who need to find quality accommodations for aging relatives or for themselves.
"A lot of people don't want to leave Athens but … aren't able to maintain their homes," she said. "We lose the (valuable) lifetime experiences of our elderly."
She said her own parents were forced to move to Columbus because of a lack of places for them to live in Athens. She hopes the retirement community is built so others do not have to make that choice.
"We would have been able to maintain our family unit (if they had stayed in Athens)," she said. "I would have been able to take part in my parents' lives."
Students in both the College of Health and Human Services and the College of Osteopathic Medicine also will benefit from the facility with increased opportunities for experiential learning and internships.
"Providing them with experience along the way is really helpful because, when they go out to interview for a job, it is good for them to have some hands-on experience and not just what they have learned from a textbook," said Lee Cibrowski, associate dean of the College of Health and Human Services. She added that students in majors as diverse as long-term health care administration, physical therapy and dietetics could potentially benefit.
The project has met with some controversy. Athens community members have expressed concerns that the facility would be built in the flood plain and also reduce green space in the neighborhood. In addition, one local retirement community sued the university in 2006, claiming the $1 lease amount was unfair to competitors. The suit later was withdrawn.
John Kotowski, associate vice president for facilities, said he is confident that the newly negotiated price will allay concerns about unfair competition. He added that the development would meet all flood plain regulations, and developers plan to maintain as much green space as possible.
"There are 16 acres involved, and a very small part of the property will be taken up by buildings," Kotowski said. "The people who live in this property want and need green space as well."
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