Reprinted with permission from The Republic newspaper, October 6, 2021

The city of Columbus has contracted with Tobi Herron with Inspire Motives LLC for work on a grant application, as well as some fundraising for the FairOaks Mall project.

“There are two projects we’re asking Inspire Motives — and, in this case, Tobi Herron — to work on for the city,” said City Director of Finance, Operations and Risk Jamie Brinegar. “One is as a project manager and strategic support for the ARP grant application through the Chicago Economic Development Administration Office.”

Herron will be coordinating many different groups as the city works on its application, and this portion of the contract has a not-to-exceed amount of $5,000.

Brinegar said the second part is “project management and strategic support” for NexusPark fundraising efforts, with a not-to-exceed amount of $20,000.

“We realize that there will be some naming possibilities for different parts within the project,” he explained, “and we need some help in coordinating that effort.”

While the board approved the contract unanimously, member John Pickett had some questions about the second portion of the agreement, how fundraising for NexusPark will work, and whether the firm has the experience needed for the project.

Director of Community Development and Administration Mary Ferdon replied that there are a couple of community leaders who “are going to lead this charge” for NexusPark. She added that the fundraising for this project will likely look different than that of other endeavors such as the Philharmonic.

“What the role of Inspire Motives will be is not the fundraising per se, but we need to have somebody kind of backhouse who’s helping us coordinate what those opportunities are,” Ferdon explained. “There’s all kinds of contracts that have to be kind of assembled and help keep track of who we’ve talked to, who we haven’t talked to, what naming opportunities are more appropriate for Baker’s Gifts versus a private individual.”

Brinegar also noted that the actual capital projects will be handled through bonding; fundraising will not be used to cover the whole cost of the project. It relates more to small naming and advertising opportunities.

“The local folks that we have ready to lead the charge have worked on other fundraising projects in the past and for the community in the past,” he added. “And for this, Tobi is just going to be behind the scenes coordinating everything.”

Ferdon added that it’s possible that they could get into the process and find that the work just entails “providing the data to hand over to a fundraising company,” but there’s a large amount of data that has to be gathered before that would happen.

Pickett replied that he still expects the city will need to raise at least 30% of funds from the private sector.

“I think you should add to the scope of work that perhaps by the time this is over, you have figured out the next stage of the campaign, including the human resources needed from either a capital campaign firm or a professional development director,” he said.

Ferdon replied that they might add to the scope of work but need to focus on assembling data before they move to the next phase.

“We can do it less expensively here, and we can do it with people who know the community,” she said. “…A larger capital campaign doesn’t know Columbus like we do.”

However, an outside firm sometimes has helpful resources and can provide “a clarity that an insider can’t,” Pickett said.

“Make sure your leadership has the kind of infrastructure needed to raise this money, or this project could languish for a while,” he added.

Still, Pickett followed up the statement by moving for the agreement’s approval, and it passed 5-0.