Mechanicsburg leaders say new partnership will cut vacant buildings

Mechanicsburg leaders say a new agreement with the Champaign County Economic Partnership will cut down on the number of vacant properties downtown.

The village has taken multiple steps to get new businesses in town in the past two years, Administrator April Huggins-Davis said, including designating a portion of downtown as a historic district and passing a maintenance enforcement program for vacant buildings.

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Last week the village council passed a resolution to name the Champaign Economic Partnership as the village’s economic development department, Huggins-Davis said, designated to manage abandoned properties owned by the village.

The CEP is a public-private partnership that aims to stimulate economic growth in the county, Director Marcia Bailey said, and to help local governments sell properties. It’s public partners include the city of Urbana and Champaign County, she said. While its private partners include Security National Bank, Pioneer Electric, DP&L, Memorial Health and KTH Parts Industries.

“We are strengthening the county’s competitive position,” Bailey said.

Once the CEP takes over any property, Mayor Greg Kimball said, it would have the ability to sell it privately and seek an owner that would be a good fit for downtown. The village is required to sell properties publicly, he said, and to the highest bidder.

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“Each individual property we’ll go with them, sit down and set up a plan for that property,” Kimball said. “…There could be a coffee shop, it could apartments. It could be any multitude of different things, but we’re hoping it’ll be business related.”

The village plans to take ownership of the vacant property on the corner of North Main Street and West Sandusky Street, he said, although the foreclosure process isn’t yet complete. If the transfer is successful, he said he’d want to work with the CEP to find a developer.

Some people have already shown interest in the property, Huggins-Davis said.

“There’s been a lot of talk about people who have been interested in it,” she said. “Maybe putting some apartments back in it. Keeping the businesses downstairs.”

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Norman Williams is the owner of Norm’s Barbershop in downtown Mechanicsburg. He said he wants to see more small businesses move in to the village.

“I would like to see them being used,” he said of the vacant properties. “I’d like to see them refurbished.”

Should the village take over the property, leaders would have to meet with the CEP board, Director Bailey said, to decide whether the building is a project the CEP wants to take on.

The village will meet with the CEP board at their meeting next week, Kimball said.

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