Reprinted with permission from The Republic newspaper, September 20, 2023

A local employer is contributing a quarter of a million dollars for a new recreation center at NexusPark.

Toyota Material Handling has committed $250,000 over five years for The Recreation and Entertainment Center (The REC), said Senior Vice President of Operations, Engineering and Strategic Planning Tony Miller.

“It’s going to be a massive gamechanger for our recreation program,” said Recreation Manager Jacob Hendricks with the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department.

Miller and other Toyota executives took a hard-hat tour of NexusPark Tuesday morning, visiting The REC — which was named by the company, parks officials said — and other city-owned pieces of the site.

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. In addition to parks department and community spaces such as The REC, the campus is also expected to include 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.

Columbus Parks Director Mark Jones said that the fieldhouse is expected to be complete by the end of the year, and the parks department spaces at NexusPark will be necessary to operate it.

“We’re hoping, cross our fingers, mid-first quarter (2024) with some soft opening stuff,” he said. “A lot of our programming stuff we’ve got scheduled beginning of second quarter next year.”

Associate Director of Recreation Nikki Murphy said that the The REC is greatly needed, as most of the department’s indoor youth and adult programming is held at the aging Donner Center.

“The dining room (at Donner) is our shared space,” she said. “We’ve never had a proprietary space that we could set up and make our own for recreation programming for the kids.”

The department’s programs also have to compete with other users and work around the limits of the building itself, she added.

Furthermore, the different age groups they serve have different needs, said Hendricks.

“The REC space gives us a quality location to be able to facilitate programs for all of those age groups,” he said. He also noted that the center will provide opportunities to potentially expand their offerings, with some possibilities being STEM activities such as computer programming classes.

“It’s very important to Toyota that we give back to the community,” said Tracy Stachniak, Vice President of Human Resources. “And one of the things that really attracted us to this space is that … this recreational space will support community members of all ages.”

“We’re continuing to grow as an employer, so we need the community to grow with us,” Miller said. “And so this is just a great venue, I think, to help Columbus grow.”