A large mixed-use development opening next month in Butler County is likely to bring customers from all over the region. The $350 million Liberty Center is located at the 1-75 and State Route 129 interchange.
Liberty Center is moving in because Butler County has seen tremendous growth in past decades. The U.S. census shows there were fewer than 200,000 residents in 1960. It’s estimated to be almost double that today. Researcher Jeff Rexhausen from the University of Cincinnati Economics Center, has noticed this change.
“What we’re seeing more recently is businesses, both retail — which can serve those households — and major employers, moving to Butler County because there is a market there for consumers who want their products, and there’s a labor force for businesses that want to move in,” he says.
Liberty Center’s opening will bring 3,500 new jobs to the area.
Rexhausen says it will attract customers from outside the county, particularly from shopping malls. Jessica Maston was shopping at Tri-County Mall on a recent Tuesday. She says she’ll shop at the Liberty Center when it opens, but will continue shopping at Tri-County.
“I think it depends on all the stores that are going to be in there… just depending on what I’m looking for at the time,” she says.
Tri-County Mall is trying to keep up with its new neighbor. A $35 million improvement project is on the way.
“I think it will encourage a lot of the people that are here already to spend more time on their lunch (break), more time after work,” says Springdale Economic Development Director Christine Russell.
She explains that construction plans came when a new owner took over in 2013. The reform will bring new tenants, improved access, outlot buildings, and a new façade.
Liberty Center will have a temporary impact on Tri-County Mall’s sales, according to Russell. Two large stores — Dillards and Dick’s Sporting Goods — are closing their Springdale locations and moving to Liberty Center.
“I think the other thing is, it’s new. People are going to want to go up there. However, I really don’t see this as an either/or proposition,” she says. “I really believe that both of these centers will be successful in the long-run.”
Liberty Center differs from most shopping malls because it includes apartments, offices, hotels, a park and entertainment venues. General Manager Kevin Cedik says it will also host more than 200 special events and promote a sense of community.
“We really focus on the guest experience. Everything from strolling musical performances on the street down to large-scale events such as our jazz concert, which is about an eight week series over the summer,” says Cedik.
But along with all these positives, UC Economics Professor Erwin Erhardt speculates there could be some negatives.
“It’s obviously going to increase traffic and possibly some traffic jams out there. It also takes a little bit away from the neighborhood for those who like the more serene look, the more quiet environment,” Erhardt explains.
Another concern, UC economics researcher Chris Nicak says, is these types of shopping malls do not tend to have long lives.
“Even when they’re very well-done developments, they can rub some people the wrong way because it always feels like it’s just the next disposable thing.”
However, Nicak points out Liberty Center’s uniqueness, scale of development and office spaces bode well for its medium to long-term future.