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Liberty Center is Greater Cincinnati’s something-for-everyone development

There are mixed-use developments, town centers, and then there are PLACES, and Liberty Center is being designed to be just that when it brings 1.2 million sq. ft. of retail, restaurant, offices, residences, a hotel and three parks — including one inside the enclosed mall — to a young and affluent area of North Cincinnati.

Liberty Center, opening Oct. 8 at a newly constructed interchange at Interstate 75 and ST 129 in North Cincinnati, will create a core for the new Cincinnati/Dayton metroplex, say developers Steiner + Associates and Bucksbaum Retail Properties. The project’s scale is similar to Steiner’s Easton Town Center in Columbus, Ohio, and The Greene in Beavercreek, Ohio, but with an even greater emphasis on outdoor space and community facilities.

“We are taking the public space to the nth degree,” said Yaromir Steiner, founder and CEO of Steiner + Associates. “We’ve put the amenities on steroids.”

Steiner had been planning a project on the site from about 2006 but abandoned the project during the recession. When the lender approached the developer again in 2010, the project was revived, and Steiner brought in Chicago-based Bucksbaum. Steiner and CEO John Bucksbaum have served as trustees of the International Council of Shopping Centers.

“We liked and admired each other’s work, which has been environmentally conscious and very much aware of the importance of placemaking,” Steiner said.

The result is building what is in effect a completely new community that will be active both in the day and evening. The town center will include nearly 800,000 sq. ft. of enclosed and open-air retail, restaurants and entertainment, a 130-room AC Liberty by Marriott, 75,000 sq. ft. of Class A office space, 240 apartments and, most critically, multiple parks that can be programmed for different uses.

The retail will be anchored by a 200,000-sq.-ft. Dillard’s; an 82,000-sq.-ft., 16-screen CineBistro theater with six dine-in screens; and an 80,000-sq.-ft. Dick’s Sporting Goods. While much of the retail will be single level along tree-lined streets, a portion will be contained within the two-level Foundry building attached to Dillard’s and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Dining will be a significant part of the mix, with 12 sit-down restaurants, including Cheesecake Factory, Brio Tuscan Grille, Kona Grill, Flip Side, Rusty Bucket, Pies and Pints, and comedy club Funny Bone. More restaurants will be announced shortly.

Density was critical to creating an air of excitement, and the project’s office and hotel space will be located above portions of the retail. Deck parking is located in several areas throughout the project, connected in some areas by a pedestrian bridge.

“In order to create the environment, we have to have office and the hotel on top,” Steiner said.

The residential will be contained within two four-story buildings, with retail on the ground floor.

But the real key to Liberty Center’s place-making, Steiner said, is the abundant green space that the developers are carefully programming to become the cores of the community. Tree-lined pedestrian walkways are located throughout the site, and lead to two outdoor parks. The Green will be oriented to families, boasting pop fountains and other interactive features. The Square, located at the west end of the site, will have public sculptures, a grand fountain and a huge lawn sloping toward an outdoor band shell.

A third park, “the Living Room,” will actually be located within the enclosed mall, offering a heavily landscaped area with lounge seating, music and a cafe that will allow shoppers to relax. Directly above on the upper level of the Foundry, the “Dining Hall” features more than 790 seats in a skylit area reminiscent of a food market. Also located in the Foundry will be the “Discovery Zone” play area.

Perhaps the project’s most distinctive feature, however, lies between the two outdoor parks. The Green and The Square will be connected by The Acropolis, a single-level retail building with a rooftop garden, dining venue and outdoor display area, as well as a community space that can be used for weddings, events, lectures and more. Shoppers and diners will access the rooftop amenities via dramatic staircases at both ends of the building.

The $350 million development is being financed with a combination of debt and equity, but with what Steiner calls “a very creative structure,” bringing in other developers for the hotel, apartments and office components.

All of this will establish a new hub for North Cincinnati that in itself is the center of the merging Cincinnati and Dayton metroplex of 3.5 million people, making it the 15th largest MSA in the country. More than 131,000 people live within five miles of Liberty Center, with an average household income expected to exceed $105,000 at the grand opening. The population within a 15-mile radius is nearly 888,000, with an average household income of nearly $75,000, the developers say. More than 170,000 vehicles drive by the site every day, and both the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital North and West Chester Hospital are located within one mile of the complex.

Yet the only major retail north of the Ohio River, Steiner noted, is Kenwood Towne Centre, making the mix of retail even more critical to the community.

Besides creating an environment, the project will protect the environment with such features as underground water retention basins beneath the project’s parking garages — the rainwater collected will be used for irrigation, while the collection benefits the adjacent stream.

With all that’s taking place at Liberty Center, the project still will have space for more in later phases. No time line has been set for future development, but Steiner noted that there is room for 1.5 million additional sq. ft. of development.

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