Reprinted with permission from The Republic newspaper, March 24, 2022

Redevelopment officials are allocating a little under $500,000 in tax increment funds to cover master planning for external aspects of the NexusPark campus.

The Columbus Redevelopment Commission voted Monday to engage design firm MKSK to complete exterior master planning, design and construction documents for the NexusPark project. The commission also approved a grant of $450,000 from the Central TIF District to the Midtown TIF to cover the cost of this work.

According to City Director of Administration and Community Development Mary Ferdon, the proposal from MKSK — which will also subcontract engineering firm Strand Associates, Inc. on the project — has a contract amount of $426,500.

Redevelopment Director Heather Pope said that the resolution approving this contract has a not-to-exceed amount of $450,000 in case additional services are needed.

MKSK was previously hired to guide the city and Columbus Regional Health through the process of redefining FairOaks Mall, Donner Center and surrounding areas. The firm created a conceptual master planning report for this purpose, with other consultants such as architecture firm Perkins &Will also involved in the process.

The final version of this document was approved by the FairOaks Community Development Corp. Design Committee in July of 2020.

Ferdon told the commission that officials expect work on NexusPark’s exterior campus to take place “a little bit later” than other phases of the project. However, the city does want to begin looking at the design of these improvements.

“We’re trying to change the whole layout of that mall,” she said. “We want it to be a welcoming place. We want it to have green space. And we wanted it to look less like a mall and more like a community center.”

MKSK’s design work on the exterior campus will include planning for outdoor park space, road configuration, trails, parking lots and landscaping.

“The schedule is to have that (design work) completed by next fall, just because we don’t know when we would actually be able to start putting in the landscaping and parking lot,” said Ferdon. “Because we’ll still have three construction firms on the property, with the community parks space, with the fieldhouse and with CRH.”

Her presentation to the commission showed estimated costs for some of the campus improvements, including $450,000 for the master plan, $1.8 million for landscaping and lighting, $1.1 million for campus parking lots, $750,000 on loop road reconfiguration and $500,000 on extending Hawcreek Avenue.

While these pieces of the NexusPark project are largely unfunded at present — with the exception of the master plan — Ferdon said that possible funding sources include donors, reserves, Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative (READI) grant funds and TIF dollars.

Commission member Kyle Hendricks asked if this means redevelopment should expect more funding requests in the future.

“Most likely,” said Ferdon. “So we do have various options. … The purpose of a TIF is to provide infrastructure for economic development. The Midtown TIF may be an appropriate place to come for some number of the exterior infrastructure. So you will probably see us back; for what amount, I don’t know. Part of it has to do with cost estimates, and part of it has to do with what you feel would be appropriate to spend TIF dollars on.”

She added that READI funds might be available to cover pieces such as park and trail spaces. On the other hand, the TIF may be an “appropriate funding source” for basic infrastructure such as loop road reconfiguration, landscaping and lighting.

The redevelopment commission approved a confirmatory resolution in December to create the Midtown Allocation Area. This TIF allows the redevelopment commission to siphon off increasing property taxes within the midtown area to fund improvements within that zone.

According to a memorandum from city/county Planning Director Jeff Bergman, redevelopment officials indicated that the Midtown TIF will be used to fund infrastructure and other improvements, specifically those associated with redevelopment of the mall as the NexusPark community wellness facility.

The redevelopment commission wrote in its economic development plan for the area that officials plan to capture TIF revenue from midtown “for the purpose of undertaking the projects that will help ensure a healthy business climate for the companies that locate within the area and promotes, enhances and grows amateur sports and sports tourism.”

“There had not been a lot of focus on economic development around the mall and that general east side, northeast side of the city,” said Ferdon. She added that there’s a lot of opportunities for new development in the area, such as standalone retail, hospitality and mixed use development.