HUDSON — It’s been more than a week since the city announced it was parting ways with the developer in the Downtown Phase II project, but municipal leaders are not offering reasons for this significant change and the future of the project seems to be uncertain.
In addition, a group that has openly opposed the project said parting ways with the developer is "a step in the right direction," but added the city must seek out community input to determine the right course going forward.
The Downtown Phase II project was an estimated $80 million public-private development that was being planned between the city and Testa Companies on about 20 acres of industrial land in the center of town. It was envisioned to include Class-A (top quality) office space and housing for empty nesters and young professionals. The plan was scaled back after an advisory vote of residents last May narrowly expressed disapproval of the prior plan.
The city on March 28 issued a news release saying it had parted ways with Testa Companies on "good terms."
City spokesperson Jody Roberts said the decision to part ways was "mutual," but declined to elaborate.
Joel Testa, president of Testa Companies, did not reply to messages seeking comment.
When asked by the Hub-Times, City Manager Jane Howington did not offer specific reasons why the city and Testa parted ways.
Howington told the Hub-Times via email on Monday responded that council has not authorized any payments to Testa and added that council "is looking at options for the property formerly known as ‘phase II.’"
Howington then clarified council has not yet discussed whether the Phase II project will move forward or not.
She added that council has not yet approved the purchase of the Windstream building, a site which was eyed as part of the Phase II plan.
"Authorization of the purchase and sale has not been approved but this step would be to exercise the due diligence stage: something all people do when considering the purchase of a property," stated Howington.
One of the leaders of Hudson’s Voice LLC, a grassroots coalition of city residents, business owners and civic leaders that opposed the Phase II project as planned, offered her advice to the city.
"While the long-overdue decision to cease work with Testa Companies is a step in the right direction, the city must take broad-based community input into account to determine appropriate next steps that will reflect Hudson’s charm and will appeal to the majority of our citizens," said Jessie Obert, vice president of Hudson’s Voice LLC.
Hudson’s Voice LLC said its concerns about Phase II include the cost, housing density, "excess" Class-A office space, the need for "significant and costly environmental remediation" of some of the property slated for redevelopment and "a lack of return on investment" for the city and its residents.
Hudson’s Voice LLC noted the city "failed to provide any details regarding next steps, just vague allusions to continuing the project."
Obert said she felt the lack of specific details on the future of the project was "troubling," and added Hudson’s Voice would continue to hold the city administration "accountable" on Phase II.
Howington told the Hub-Times that she felt now "is the time for all citizens to pull together on ways to support Hudson. Sowing seeds of continued divisiveness is out of place at this time."
Howington noted the city will have an open process when determining the next steps for downtown redevelopment.
"Council is committed to open transparency, even when remote meetings necessitate adjustments to their meeting process," said Howington. "Discussions and decisions for the redevelopment of the downtown area will be no different."
Officials with Hudson’s Voice LLC noted the city’s move to no longer work with Testa Companies came nearly a year after the advisory vote last May 2019. The measure was defeated by a tally of 2,578 to 2,395, according to results from the Summit County Board of Elections.
In November 2019, challenger Craig Shubert defeated incumbent David Basil in the mayor’s race and three new council members — Chris Foster, Katherine Schlademan and Skylar Sutton — were also elected. Foster defeated incumbent Lisa Radigan, while Schlademan and Sutton were elected to posts where the incumbents decided against running for re-election.
"It’s clear that a majority of the people in Hudson have lost confidence in the city’s management of the redevelopment of downtown Hudson and see the project as an irresponsible use of taxpayer money," said Obert.
Rebecca Leiter, president of Hudson’s Voice, said that for more than 18 months, citizens "have been telling the city manager and others in the administration that the Phase II redevelopment project is not right for Hudson. The project does not make financial sense, and as planned, will not support existing downtown businesses nor will it provide true and direct public benefit. In light of the current health care and economic crisis gripping America, this is no time to pursue this deeply flawed multi-million dollar development project in the heart of our city."
Hudson’s Voice members said they felt their advocacy efforts brought about "significant change" in the membership of city council and the mayor’s office.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, email@example.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.