Reprinted with permission from The Republic newspaper, October 4, 2023

The Columbus City Council has given final approval to appropriating $3 million from the city’s general fund for costs related to the NexusPark project.

The seven-member council voted 4-2 to approve the additional appropriation on a second and final reading. Council members Elaine Hilber and Grace Kestler voted against the appropriation, while council member Jerone Wood did not attend the meeting.

The money will be used to complete the NexusPark project and fund some repair work, including $1 million for additional roof repairs on the existing mall building; $1 million for furniture, fixtures and equipment at the fieldhouse; $500,000 for additional steel at the fieldhouse due to the results of a seismic study; and $300,000 to put in more hardcourt at the fieldhouse than initially planned, city officials said previously.

NexusPark is a joint effort between the city of Columbus and Columbus Regional Hospital to transform the former FairOaks Mall into a health, wellness and recreation center. The campus is expected to include parks department and community spaces, CRH facilities, restaurant and retail areas and a fieldhouse.

Outdoor community park and gathering spaces are planned, and Dunham’s is expected to remain on-site under its current lease.

Hilber has raised concerns that the multiple funding sources and appropriations for NexusPark have made it difficult to get a full view of what the project is actually costing the city. Kestler said she hasn’t seen a publicly advertised budget or estimate for the total price.

When asked by The Republic last month about the cost of the city’s portion of the project, Jamie Brinegar, the city’s former director of finance, operations and risk, said the fieldhouse is estimated to cost about $30.7 million, and the parks department and community spaces are estimated at $21.4 million. These amounts include the proposed appropriations.

Parks Associate Director of Business Services Pam Harrell said in a previous interview that the city would work to negotiate a contract with Force Construction for work on NexusPark’s exterior campus. She said city officials were targeting a price of $6.5 million or less.

In addition to construction and renovation, there are other costs associated with the project as well. For instance, when the city and CRH partnered to purchase the mall property in 2018, the city put up about $4 million, or 75% of the property’s appraised value.

Other expenses include contract with consultants, such as Legacy Sports Group.

In addition to bonds and appropriations, funding sources for the city’s portion of NexusPark include a $6 million Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative grant. The city has also worked to recruit donors to help fund pieces of the project.

For instance, Toyota Material Handling has committed $250,000 over five years for the Recreation and Entertainment Center, according to Senior Vice President of Operations, Engineering and Strategic Planning Tony Miller. The space, known as The REC for short, will be part of the new parks department and community spaces at the campus.