Liberty Center to impact local crime, property value

More than 10M people expected to visit area annually.

By Eric Schwartzberg and Chelsey Levingston
Staff Writers

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LIBERTY TWP. — Once retailers at the approximately $350 million Liberty Center development open the doors next month, projections call for the complex to draw more than 10 million people a year to shop and dine, according to the director of the Butler County Visitors Bureau.

A wide-ranging impact will be felt on local tourism, crime and property values.

That’s enough foot traffic to not only attract other businesses wanting a piece of the action, but also out-of-town visitors and new residents because the center “holds a sense of community and also provides first-class amenities,” said Mark Hecquet, the bureau’s executive director.

Estimates include 50,000 to 70,000 people expected to visit from outside the area each year. That makes Liberty Center “a major game changer” for the entire county, Hecquet said.

“These visitors will spend money within Liberty Center but also in Butler County restaurants, stores, hotels, attractions, gas stations and many more businesses outside of the Liberty Center itself,” Hecquet said. “Businesses ranging from dry cleaners that service employee uniforms to farms that produce locally-sourced ingredients for restaurant menus and many, many more will all positively benefit.”

The influx of visitors will also create opportunities for the rest of Butler County to promote itself to a larger audience such as local attractions Pyramid Hill, Pendleton Arts Center, Fitton Center for Creative Arts, the Hamilton-Fairfield Symphony Orchestra and Enter-Trainment Junction, Hecquet said.

More restaurant and entertainment options also means area residents can stay closer to home.

“Our community will be given a gathering space and downtown type environment where community events and programs can take place,” said Township Trustee Christine Matacic.

Liberty Center will “change Liberty’s landscape forever” and further positions the area as a great place to live, work, play and raise a family for generations to come, according to Trustee Tom Farrell.

“Liberty’s reputation as a bedroom community may never change, but a development the size of Liberty Center, coupled with Children’s, Christ (Hospital), VOA (MetroPark) and abutting development gives us the opportunity to remain a bedroom community without bedroom community taxes and that is rare for any township or city,” Farrell said.

Not only is Liberty Center located at the center of the Cincinnati and Dayton metropolitan areas, it’s also a strategic location within a 600-mile radius of 54 percent of the U.S. population, said Joe Hinson, president and chief executive officer of the West Chester-Liberty Chamber Alliance.

“Besides the opportunity to serve 3 million people in our northern Kentucky-Cincinnati-Dayton metroplex, (the cities of ) Columbus, Indianapolis, Lexington and Louisville are each less than a two hour drive to Liberty Center, which more than doubles its population outreach for potential customers,” Hinson said.

Crime and law impact

Liberty Center will model itself after Easton Town Center and other retail outlets by combining retail-provided security with area law enforcement.

Starting in October, the center will pay the salary of one Butler County Sheriff ’s Office deputy to take on the job as a full-time responsibility, working hand-in-hand with Liberty Center’s own security force.

Typical primary duties for that deputy will include responding to vehicle crashes in and around the center, as well as reports of theft, said Lt. Morgan Dallman, who supervises deputies working at the Liberty Twp. sheriff ’s substation.

“Any environment where there’s retail involved, it’s going to bring in the criminal element,” Dallman said. “It’s just a matter of law enforcement and ... the Liberty Center personnel themselves staying on top of the issues that they have.”

To help be ready for the expected increase in theft and traffic calls, the sheriff ’s office started researching as far back as two years ago how major shopping centers work to prevent and combat crime.

That included getting an idea of the call volume and various comparable retail centers by visiting security officials at Bridgewater Falls in Fairfield Twp., Cincinnati Premium Outlets in Monroe, Northgate Mall in Colerain Twp., Tri-County Mall in Springfield Twp. and Easton Town Center in Columbus.

“We wanted to get an idea of how the police and the security coordinate among each other and how their operations are run and how they work as a team,” Dallman said.

The centers that Dall-man visited are very service-oriented and feature “a different type of policing.”

“You’re not in a residential environment, you’re in a retail environment,” he said.

Property values

Commercial land values have already increased in the Liberty Way corridor, even before Liberty Center opens next month, according to real estate experts.

For example, when primary Liberty Center developer Steiner + Associates bought in 2012 the first 50 acres for the project for a total approximately $8 million, it paid about $160,000 an acre. Then, when Steiner purchased the final portion of land for the project’s first phase, it paid about $13.7 million for 48 total acres, or about $285,417 per acre.

But land prices are not driven higher just by the opening of the Liberty Center development, said Tom McCormick, senior vice president for commercial real estate firm Cushman Wakefield.

Sellers are also fetching higher prices due to medical development such as nearby West Chester Hospital; the current expansion of Cincinnati Children’s Liberty Campus; and plans to build The Christ Hospital Medical Center-Liberty Center, McCormick said.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in land value there,” he said. “One way or the other the medical is the foundation of that submarket now.”

“The top-end prices really relate to this immediate area. It’s not just for the whole township,” he said.

Liberty Twp. currently reigns as the top community for new home construction in Greater Cincinnati.

Homebuilders have pulled 141 permits for the first half of this year, more than any other jurisdiction, according to the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati.

So, residential activity is not yet driven by Liberty Center, but Liberty Center’s not slowing down the pace either, said Alan Young, a township resident and real estate agent for Comey & Shepherd Realtors.

In fact, the average sold price of mostly existing homes in the township decreased over the five month period of April through August this year, according to the Multiple Listing Service of Greater Cincinnati Inc., a division of Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors. Liberty Twp. homes sold for an average $277,430 over the last five months, a 3 percent drop from the same time the year before.

However, sales across all of Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren counties increased 3 percent to $195,661 over the same year-over-year time frame.

One of the township’s advantages for homebuyers is the different settings depending on buyer tastes.

Urban living such as the luxury apartments opening at Liberty Center and other complexes opening nearby is available, as well as more rural subdivisions in the area of Princeton Road, Young said.

“It’s inevitable expansion it seems to me along the highway corridor, but Liberty Twp. is so big that I think it offers slightly rural settings and great neighborhoods... and now we have all the amenities to go with it,” Young said. “We just have to be careful about the traffic. That’s the biggest concern.”