Projects create new uses on commercial sites throughout the suburb.

When Maryland-based Erickson Retirement Communities began building the first of a planned 1,529-unit senior housing and continuing care facility in 2008, Hilliard officials hoped the $300 million Hickory Chase community would anchor an undeveloped area between Britton Parkway and I-270 at Davidson Road.

“Clearly, Hickory Chase (would have) created a self-contained little city with the number of baby boomers living there,” says Mayor Don Schonhardt. “It was about jobs and bringing in seniors and creating additional demand for medical facilities.”

But in mid-2009, the banking consortium financing the project forced the first 145-unit, $30 million residential section into foreclosure amid the fear gripping commercial loan markets at the onset of the Great Recession. The project languished in the courts for more than four years as the lenders wrangled with contractors over disposition of the property and the proceeds of a sale, which didn't take place until August 2014 when southern California-based Greenwich Investors Hickory Chase stepped in.

The development plan was revised in 2015, and the project began to revive last year as central Ohio apartment developer Don Kenney Sr., started construction on 492 apartments on 14 acres purchased from Greenwich Investors.

Meanwhile, Hilliard and the Columbus Metropolitan Library in late 2016 completed the $6.8 million purchase of the 60,000-square-foot Hickory Chase community center as the library system seeks to dust off that building and renovate it into the suburb's new branch library.

“We had to make the best of it,” Schonhardt says of the revised development. “We think it will accomplish the same development goals, but not all just for seniors.”

Kenney says theGreyson at Hickory Chase complex will offer higher finishes—and rents—than his Westerville-based company typically builds in suburban communities. “We do what the market requests, and that's higher-end units in Hilliard,” Kenney says, noting the footholds that Edwards Communities, Lifestyle Communities and, more recently, Vision Development already have established there. “Pete Edwards has had a lock on the market for some time,” Kenney says of the Edwards Communities founder.

Kenney says Greyson “is not a small development. It was hard to get all of the pieces in place.” He needed to reconfigure the broader development and rezone the new sections. “There were a lot of details,” he says. The first apartments will be ready this spring.

During this same time, Hilliard and the Columbus Metropolitan Library staff negotiated the structure of a deal to relocate and expand the 20,000-square-foot branch at 4772 Cemetery Rd., which opened 20 years ago but has not kept up with surging demand for books and other materials. That branch now tops other branches in annual circulation, says metro library CEO Patrick Losinski.

The library system had considered expanding the existing library to 40,000 square feet as it planned a similar project in historic Dublin. The system's original northwest plan also contemplated a new, 40,000-square-foot branch somewhere between Hilliard and Dublin.

“What really intrigued us was doing a 60,000-square-foot facility at Hickory Chase,” Losinski says, noting the metro library had started to sour on a new-build between Hilliard and Dublin because of the ongoing operating costs that would have generated. “Hilliard is a community that justified doing that much more additional space,” Losinski says.

The transformation of the Hickory Chase community center into a community library will begin either in late summer or early fall, with an opening slated for 2018. The total budget for the project, including construction, design and furnishings, is $15.8 million. “Having the multifamily and library” at Hickory Chase, Schonhardt says, “will attract neighborhood commercial development.”

The Hickory Chase redevelopment project already has helped the city attract a two-tier medical project across Britton Parkway from Hickory Chase.

Mount Carmel Health System has an emergency department under construction in partnership with Dallas-based Adeptus Health Inc., as the anchor of a small community hospital that will offer inpatient healthcare services as well as 16 patient rooms for short-term stays. A 60,000-square-foot medical office building will connect directly to the hospital as part of the medical complex.

And that's not the only medical facility underway in Hilliard. OhioHealth has an emergency room under construction on the former site of a Mitsubishi auto dealership at 3880 Fishinger Blvd., in the Mill Run mixed-use development. Both the Mount Carmel and free-standing OhioHealth emergency departments are scheduled to open this fall.

“Having some of that care where we can in the communities helps alleviate the stress at the hospital-based emergency department,” says Kristin McManmon, OhioHealth president of neighborhood care. “It's closer to home and convenient.”

The emergency departments will do more than improve access for the residents. Schonhardt says the two emergency medical facilities will improve efficiency for the Norwich Township Fire Department, which provides EMS runs into Hilliard. It will reduce the out-of-service times and operating costs now spent driving patients to OhioHealth's Doctors Hospital or Dublin Methodist Hospital.

Not all economic development in Hilliard has centered on Hickory Chase. North of the development at Hayden Run Road, Amazon Web Services has a second, 153,000-square-foot Big Data server facility under construction to join a 180,000-square-foot facility that opened in 2016. The complex—one of three the tech giant has underway in the region—eventually will have 800,000 square feet spread among five buildings and an office site.

And the city in late 2016 gained the first phase of a Bo Jackson Elite Sports facility on Cosgray Road, a complex with athletic fields under a dome designed to serve young athletes. Hilliard officials hope the facility anchors plans for nearby sports fields that would attract regional youth tournaments.

Matt McQuade, the business development managing director for Columbus 2020, credits Hilliard for creating the infrastructure and residential base to attract projects. “They've done a good job at preparing the community for growth,” he says.

And that goes beyond having incentives and land available for companies seeking to relocate or expand in Hilliard, he adds. “All of the city departments have an economic development focus.”

Schonhardt says Greyson at Hickory Chase will improve its homegrown labor force by attracting more young professionals. The market-rate multifamily community “really worked out to the city's advantage to reconsider that entire site to attract more of a workforce population.”

The city also has worked to make its historic section more attractive to both residents and visitors with amenities like Hilliard Station Park—complete with splash pad during warm weather and a small amphitheater for performances—in late 2015. “That's a more interactive park and a means to attract more into Old Hilliard,” the mayor says.

Those efforts already have attracted a joint venture among Columbus developers Kohr Royer Griffith, Robert Weiler Co. and Donald Kelley, who have 204 apartments and 14,000 square feet of commercial space planned off Cemetery Road just west of a now-abandoned rail overpass. It was a blighted site with a 70-year-old grain elevator at the center, says Kelley Cos. principal Michael Kelley. “It was more difficult than a typical greenfield development.”

The project now under construction will incorporate the grain elevator and silo into the Landmark Lofts clubhouse. “It has a lot of character attractive to tenants,” Kelley says of Landmark Lofts, “and will be walkable to Old Hilliard and adjacent businesses.” The project included extension of Franklin Street through the site, forcing relocation of the popular Starliner Diner, which now operates out of a former post office on E. Main Street in Old Hilliard.

Back at Hickory Chase, Greenwich Investors Director of Operations Todd Lyle says much remains to be done. The investor has directed contractors to look over the plumbing and electrical wiring so the senior housing component can get final occupancy permits. “We've held off doing anything with the senior housing until we closed on the apartment land and library portion as amenities,” Lyle says.

The project will get marketed—with or without final finishes such as counter tops—as soon as April to a national audience of operators. Expectations are that a buyer will be identified this fall. “We think it's a special opportunity for somebody,” Lyle says.

Brian Ball is a freelance writer.