A Bridge To Prosperity 6

20 Years After Union Centre

Each day 50,000 cars pass through the Union Centre interchange on I-75. Drivers fly past the large blue and yellow IKEA building and giant net surrounding Topgolf. They can see tall hotels and smell nearby restaurants during the dinner hour as they pass under the elegant “UC” emblems on the overpass gates. For many in our area, this drive is routine as you enter and exit the West Chester and Liberty Township neighborhoods. However, just 20 years ago the landscape looked quite different.

“All you could see were fields and Lakota West High School,” says Joe Hinson, President and CEO of the West Chester • Liberty Chamber Alliance.

More than two decades ago, the area where Union Centre stands today was identified as an optimal area for growth, but without access to the interstate, it would be hard to achieve. Community leaders, key local businesses, township trustees, a group of private citizens and the Chamber Alliance set out to make the new development happen, and this month marks the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Union Centre Boulevard exchange.

Larry Brueshaber was part of the planning and visioning process of what West Chester (formerly Union Township) wanted to become. He leads the West Chester Development Council, which plays a vital role in encouraging and assisting growth in West Chester’s business sector through the attraction and expansion of companies and projects.

“One of the key issues [at the time] was [finding] commercial development that would be sustainable and aid us in switching the larger part of our tax burden to commercial from residential,” Brueshaber explains. “Our charge was to not only market West Chester, but then to follow up and make sure that developers could get their questions answered in a hurry to help them reach a good decision.”

Even with a great vision, the interchange project was unprecedented in recent times. Former Union Township Trustee and longtime resident Dick Alderson recalls that the Union Centre interchange was the first new development to be approved on I-75 in many years. It took time to get all the permits, secure funding and get construction underway, but local leaders ensured that the bureaucracy was kept to a minimum through collaboration, perseverance, clear communication and private funding.

“To get the engineering and the approvals and even the construction done so quickly showed that it was a very innovative project,” Alderson reflects. “It goes to show what can be done when we work together.”

With many coordinated efforts, the results were astounding: after only eight months of construction, the interchange opened for traffic.

“Time is money, and when you want to develop an essential business district, expediting the process helps,” Hinson says. “This put West Chester on the map as a key area for future growth and development.”

Indeed, West Chester has become a hub for business growth. Five of the ten largest industrial parks in the Cincinnati/Dayton area reside near the Union Centre Boulevard exchange, along with companies serving the following industries: medicine/bioscience, supply chain management and logistics, and manufacturing. The numbers don’t lie: in the past 20 years, more than 2.4 billion dollars has been poured into property investment and 22 million square feet of new development.

Though this 20th anniversary is a cause for celebration, many are already looking to the future growth and sustainment. The full residential buildout of each Township is around 80,000 in population, according to Hinson. Farther north, in Miamisburg and Dayton, there are new shopping and residential areas underway along I-75. Closer to home, the extension of Cox Road will enable access to many more square acres of development area, and the proposed Millikin Road interchange will increase access in a busy section of the interstate.

There is also a demand for mixed-use development that allows people to live, work and play in a central area without having to live in an urban downtown. Liberty Center fulfilled this demand in late 2015, and continues to become a beacon of connectivity.

“Liberty Township is looking into pedestrian bridges that connect Liberty Center, Christ Hospital and Children’s Hospital to VOA,” Hinson explains. “The communities of the future will want walkability.”

Alderson adds that the region must continue to improve to avoid falling behind, and Hinson emphasizes that continued progress is the standard in a competitive market.

“It’s important for people to recognize we are in a global economy, and we are surely preparing for our future,” Hinson adds.

The rewards of progress include high quality of life for residents in the area and a sustainable tax base for upkeep on roads, schools and other infrastructure. Every day, more people pass through the Union Centre interchange, so much so that a new flow pattern is being developed to ensure that the interchange can serve the increased traffic for the future.

Brueshaber attributes much of the success of these and subsequent projects to an innovative local government working tirelessly with volunteers who lend their expertise in the community.

“We’ve formed a government by dialogue, where citizens can serve on committees, and our elected officials look to those committees for very serious guidance,” Brueshaber said. “We don’t need to redesign our secret sauce; we have it figured out.”