STARK/JACOBS buy 222 acres in Avon

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"Jacobs now a big Avon landowner

AVON -- Developers Richard Jacobs and Robert Stark became land owners in Avon this week when a deal closed to buy 222 acres from the Norfolk Southern Railway Co. for $5.4 million.

The developers plan to use the industrially zoned property for their Vista project -- a 500-acre complex of stores, hotels, restaurants, homes and offices centered around a proposed new I-90 interchange at Lear-Nagel Road. They also have signed options to buy about 270 acres from other property owners, but have not yet purchased the property. ...

Industrial land in Avon has been selling for between $25,000 and $35,000 an acre, Smith said. Stark and Jacobs paid about $24,000 per acre.

''They've got an excellent piece of industrial property,'' Smith said. ''It's one of the largest pieces of industrial property within 19 miles of Cleveland. It's a prime piece of land.''

The land was one of the last parcels in Avon still owned by Norfolk Southern, which bought a total of about 1,100 acres along the railroad tracks in the 1960s, said Norfolk Southern spokeswoman Susan Bland.

''It was purchased as a potential site for industry coming in that would use the railroad,'' Ms. Bland said. ''But we've been selling various portions along the way.''

Smith said he was ''shocked'' that Norfolk Southern sold the land to Stark and Jacobs because the developers plan to use it primarily for a shopping center and not for factories that would use the railroad for shipping.

''That was also one of the contingencies -- they wanted at least 65 to 70 percent of their land to go to rail users,'' Smith said of the railroad. ''They would almost give you the land if they got a good rail user. That's where they make their money.''

Still, Smith said the land sale could work out well for Avon. Before the deal was reached to sell the land to Stark and Jacobs, the city was poised to go to court with the railroad over $1 million of sewer assessments the railroad felt it should not have to pay.

''It keeps us out of court,'' Smith said. ''I've been holding my breath so we didn't have to go through this.'' ..."


"Jacobs in Avon to stay

AVON -- The message was clear when developers Richard Jacobs and Robert Stark shelled out $5.4 million this week for 222 acres of Avon land: We're here to stay.

While the developers have been eyeing Avon for more than a year, the 222 acres bought from Norfolk Southern Railway Co. is the first land they have actually purchased.

And if everything works out for the Stark/Jacobs team, that land will be the first piece of a 500-acre project of stores, hotels, offices, restaurants and homes -- all of which would be served by a new I-90 interchange at Lear-Nagel Road they've offered to finance.

There are, however, problems.

Much of their land must be rezoned to allow for stores, hotels, offices and restaurants, and they must also receive city approval before taking the steps needed to build a new highway interchange.

So far, the city has not consented to either request made by Jacobs Group Executive Vice President Thomas Henneberry.

Some city officials phrased their concern carefully. Planning Commission member Paul Burik said the developers' plan does not follow the city's master plan. Council President Ted Graczyk said the ''trade-off'' of tax dollars for increased traffic might not be worth it.

Others were more blunt -- such as Councilman David Kaiser who said the plan ''scares me,'' and Councilman Shaun Brady who said he feared the city won't be able to stop the powerhouse team of Jacobs and Stark.

But no matter what city officials said at meetings, Henneberry always responded with a smile and a pledge to keep working on the project.

''They didn't get where they're at today by being dissuaded,'' said Graczyk. ''They're not in it for the short haul. They're in it for the long haul. I think they've been around long enough to know they're just going to have to keep plugging away.''

Indeed, The Jacobs Group has a history of getting the job done. They've developed 40 shopping malls across the country -- including Midway Mall in Elyria, Southpark Center in Strongsville, The Galleria in downtown Cleveland and Westgate Mall in Fairview Park. Two more malls are currently on the drawing board for North Carolina and Florida.

That kind of clout has some Avon residents worried some form of the project will be built no matter what city officials say or do.

''You can't beat money,'' said Stoney Road resident Joe Tramontane after a previous Planning Commission meeting. ''Money talks.''

Henneberry -- Jacobs' right-hand man for the Avon project -- insisted the key is persistence and cooperation.

''I think the size of the project is intimidating to some people both in the community and the elected officials,'' he said. ''We'll just continue to answer their concerns and their questions. I think there's a lot of positives. We've been getting some input from the community.''

The current plan, according to Henneberry, is to collect more information on the potential traffic impact of the development to present to council in April. The rezoning of the land will be put to voters in November, he said.

If the rezoning is not approved, Henneberry said he is not sure what his team will do with the 222 acres.

''We're still working on that,'' he said. ''I'm not really ready to talk about it yet.'' ...

In addition to the Stark/Jacobs project, developer Mitchell Schneider has proposed the 85-acre Avon Commons shopping center. Schneider's plans were defeated last November -- with the help of a $50,000 campaign waged by Jacobs and Stark -- but will be given another chance at a special June 1 [1999] election. ..."

(c) 1999, The Morning Journal



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