Reprinted with permission from The Republic newspaper, April 30, 2023

We’re coming up on two years since Columbus city officials and officers of Columbus Region Health began using the name NexusPark for their bold designs to transform the ailing FairOaks Mall into a new kind of community gathering place. But the collaboration dates back much earlier, to 2018, when the partners began planning a recreational and healthcare campus.

The vision is beginning to take shape, as you can see if you were near the venue in the last week. Force Construction crews recently began assembling the massive frame and rafters that now tower over the mall, forming the bones of what will be the Circle K Fieldhouse.

That facility will be the focal point of NexusPark. The Republic’s Jana Wiersema has been covering the development from its early stages and described this part of the development as follows:

“The Circle K Fieldhouse is intended to be ‘a sports and events venue that will host a multitude of different types of sporting and non-sporting events,’ including local, regional and state sports tournaments, as well as potentially hosting trade shows, conferences, graduations and large-scale community events, according to NexusPark officials.”

This 150,000-square-foot public space is positioned to draw events and visitors from a wide region of central and southern Indiana.

“The campus is also expected to include parks department and community spaces, restaurant and retail areas and CRH facilities. Outdoor community park and gathering spaces are planned, and Dunham’s is expected to remain on-site under its current lease,” Wiersema wrote.

Malls that have outlived their usefulness have become problematic from coast to coast. Search YouTube for “dead mall,” you’ll find entire categories of videos documenting these sad declines.

For those of us who have aged like fine wine, we remember the mall as the destination by default when we wanted to shop, catch a movie, meet up with friends, or just find a fun diversion. That was FairOaks Mall in the 1980s and 1990s — before the tectonic shift that was the internet. Now all the things we used to do at the mall we can do at home, online.

Yet we do still crave experiences and community, whether it’s going to a sporting event, a graduation ceremony, a boat show or, name your thing. Giving an old mall a new lease on life as a public asset is a challenge that few communities have accepted with the zeal that Columbus has, and we believe our community-driven approach will result in a successful project.

What we envision for Columbus, Bartholomew County and our surrounding region is a multi-purpose facility that will become a destination in the years ahead. NexusPark promises to be a new kind of gathering place for a new era, and we can see the beginning of that — and the new memories to be made — in those towering rafters.