Reprinted with permission from The Republic newspaper, October 28, 2018

Research continues behind the scenes as City of Columbus and Columbus Regional Hospital officials begin planning to redevelop the fading FairOaks Mall.

City and hospital officials are touring sites around the Midwest to collect possible ideas for the FairOaks Mall property they are buying. Some related to adding an air dome for indoor soccer, softball and volleyball, while others related to the idea of an indoor community and recreation center that the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department hopes to create.

Retired Cummins employee Tom Brosey, who has been hired by the city to help guide the purchase and master planning for the mall, said that while retail can be a part of the project, the city and its partners are not buying the FairOaks property for it to be a traditional shopping mall.

“We have no intention for it to be primarily retail,” Brosey said. “Retail can be complementary. For example, Dunham’s (Sports) could be very complementary to the sports and recreation programming.”

Food and restaurant services are also complementary to the suggested sports-tourism use for the mall property, he said.

Next steps

Since the city does not want to be in the mall management business, city officials are considering extending the contract with leasing company Veritas Realty of Indianapolis or a similar company that specializes in managing a distressed property as the year-long planning process begins. After the purchase of the mall is completed in December, the city will need to provide mall management services during 2019 while the redevelopment planning process continues, he said.

Brosey said he has been communicating with Veritas, explaining that tenants may renew and schedule events through 2019. But after that, any new agreements will need to be considered by the newly formed community development corporation as redevelopment of the property moves forward.

One of the biggest challenges coming up is crafting a Request for Proposals for the master plan for the property, something the city does not have a blueprint for and must create on its own, Brosey said.

“This simply doesn’t exist,” Brosey said of writing the document. “We’re doing something that local stakeholders here have never done before.”

The challenge is going to be integrating all the ideas from the city, hospital officials and the community into one cohesive plan that will become a guide for whoever is hired to develop the actual redevelopment, he said.

“We can dream big, but there is a money issue,” Brosey said.

The city formed the tax-exempt 501(c)(3) Fair Oaks Community Development Corp. with the idea of having not-for-profit status to accept grants and fund-raising donations. Mayor Jim Lienhoop said in an earlier interview that he anticipates fund-raising and grants will be necessary to do the redevelopment of the property, and no fixed dollar amount has been floated as to how much the redevelopment might cost.

About nine potential master planners for the mall project are on the city’s shortlist, but there may be more in the future to help develop the project’s “high-level road map” for the property, Brosey said.

Shaping the plan

Assuring that there would be multiple community meetings and opportunities for input about the FairOaks project, Brosey said community residents are already asking questions and offering suggestions.

The city, Columbus Regional Hospital, and the Heritage Fund have committed to following state Open Door Law requirements, with notifications to the public and media about meeting dates, which add another layer of complexity to the planning process, he said.

Stakeholders who have a large interest in the project include parks officials, hospital officials, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., the Columbus Area Visitors Center and its sports tourism efforts and local hotels, Brosey said.

Parks officials want to make sure the new facility isn’t just about athletics, but has a community-center focus, with offerings such as cooking classes, activities parents can do with their children and more. Child care may become a part of the equation to allow visitors to have a location where young children can stay while parents participate in the recreational or sports activities or classes.

There have been questions about how the facility will link to the nearby Hamilton Community Center & Ice Arena and Lincoln Park and its softball fields, with suggestions of a pedestrian overpass over 25th Street being mentioned, Brosey said.

He alluded to the advantage of the proximity of Columbus Regional Hospital within a few blocks of the mall, and National’s Road’s restaurant lineup nearby, along with Kroger Marketplace, all within easy walking distance of the mall property.

For families who participate in travel team competitions, the idea of parking the car and walking to nearby restaurants or grocery stores is attractive and convenient, Brosey said. And having a sporting goods store already at the mall would take care of missing soccer socks or damaged equipment that needed to be replaced quickly.

Brosey’s involvement in the FairOaks project started last year when he was asked to help with a feasibility study for a 150,000-square-foot soccer complex, developing a business planning strategy and working on site locations. Those sites included property at the Columbus AirPark, the vacant property along Second Street east of the county jail and the possibility of the FairOaks Mall property, he said.

At the same time, the Columbus parks department was completing its master plan for the next five years, which also mentioned the mall property as a possibility for a community recreational center that could provide more space for community center programming and for parks offices, he said.

Out of that came the idea that perhaps the uses could come together by buying the FairOaks property, giving sports tourism an option for year-round programming and providing the needed space for a true community center setting for parks programming. And all of it could be located across the street from two significant city parks department venues — the Hamilton Community Center and Lincoln Park, one of the busier outdoor venues for softball tournaments.

City officials feel strongly that the mall property will become a centerpiece for the parks and recreation department, providing a new home for parks staff, and a way to meet the community’s needs through the master plan and its focus on community-based programming.

While much of the FairOaks square footage can be re-purposed, the space needs to be flexible, Brosey said. The vacant anchor spaces left by Carson’s and JC Penney are large and offer locations where flexible space could be created for wellness activities and classes, he said.

One of FairOaks’ biggest issues will be restrooms, he said.

Larger, more accessible restroom facilities will be needed to accommodate the thousands of people who might visit during tournament weekends, and for general community use also.

Everything must also be brought up to current code in the facility, which was built in 1990, but in its later years has not received significant cosmetic updates as stores continued to exit.

One advantage that has been already determined is that the FairOaks building itself is in fairly good shape, something that could result in keeping redevelopment costs down, Brosey said.

Redeveloping the mall could have even more economic development impact than most community residents realize, Brosey said. The Columbus Area Visitors Center has told the city that on warm-weather weekends, hotel rooms are booked in Columbus for sports tourism, but not so much when it’s cold in January or February.

“Hotels are hesitant to add more capacity because of that slow time in the winter,” Brosey said. “Hotels are likely to be more receptive to adding capacity if we have the indoor sports facility. What was once a season for us will now become a year-round opportunity.”

Age: 69

City of residence: Columbus

Current occupation: Director of business services at Foundation for Youth, a part-time position; consultant to the City of Columbus for the FairOaks Mall redevelopment project.

Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degree in agricultural engineering from Ohio Sate University; Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Detroit Mercy.

Work history: Ford Motor Company, eight years; Borg Warner, five years; Cummins, 19 years; Foundation for Youth, 13 years. At Cummins, Brosey managed the Chrysler business, including Cummins’ work for Ram trucks.

Family: Wife, Cheryl; three adult children and six grandchildren.

Aug. 31: The City of Columbus, partnering with Columbus Regional Health and The Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, announce their intention to purchase the 35.36-acre FairOaks Mall property at 25th and Central Avenue. The city will be the majority partner, putting up $4,087,500 or 75 percent of the property’s $5,450,000 appraised value. The hospital system will provide $1,362,500 or 25 percent of the appraised value. The Heritage Fund has committed to providing $450,000, which is the difference between the selling price and the appraised value. The transaction is expected to be completed in December. The property is proposed to include an indoor recreation center within the mall and an air-supported domed facility developed elsewhere on the site to house indoor softball, soccer, volleyball and other sports, creating a year-round community recreational asset and sports tourism magnet.

Sept. 11: Columbus hires Tom Brosey, a retired Cummins Inc. executive, as a consultant to assist with the purchase of FairOaks Mall for a planned community recreational and sports tourism complex.

Oct. 16: The Columbus City Council unanimously approves a resolution establishing the Fair Oaks Community Development Corp. to manage the purchase, development and operation of the mall real estate. The city council ratified and confirmed the Oct. 4 incorporation of the not-for-profit organization, along with its appointed board of directors. The development corporatation is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organizaton.

Oct. 18: The Fair Oaks Community Development Corp., with eight board directors from the city and Columbus Regional Health, meets at Columbus City Hall for an organizational meeting. The board of directors elected Mayor Jim Lienhoop as president; Brad Davis, chief credit officer with Centra Credit Union, as treasurer; and Karen Niverson, executive director of the Columbus Area Visitors Center, as secretary during the meeting. The bylaws passed by the corporation establish who the group is, what it does, its functions and terms. The corporation will be subject to the state’s Open Door and Open Meeting laws.

FairOaks Mall currently has about 400,000 square feet under roof with 18 tenants, including anchor Dunham Sports, several restaurants, Bath & Body Works and Payless Shoes, as well as non-retail tenants such as Cummins Inc. and a community theater.