Columbus’ planned sports park in former Crew Stadium could go over budget

An internal document says officials responsible for building a proposed new municipal sports park on land leased from the state fairgrounds could exceed their project’s budget by $ 12 million.

Not only has the city still not reached an agreement with the state to lease the necessary fairgrounds for the park, but the likelihood that it will also cost more than budgeted continues a tendency for the city to underestimate the flat rate for the park. keeping the Columbus Crew out of town could end up costing the public dearly.

“The initial budget of $ 12 million provided for in the development agreement will not be a limitation for the development of this project, as (the department) intends to identify additional funding to meet all of the requirements. budget needs, “according to a meeting of the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department. plan obtained by The Dispatch.

The document, dated last February, was obtained from the state, which owns the land needed for the project, through the Ohio Public Records Act.

Columbus on the cost of the sports park: “We are still in the planning phase”

Asked about the document recently, the city’s recreation department said it still didn’t know what the 17-acre project could end up costing city taxpayers.

“We’re still in the planning phase so no final plan or budget has been set,” said Kerry Francis, spokesperson for the recreation department, in an email. “We continue to work with the Ohio Expo Commission,” which owns the land.

Sunday marks three years to the day that Mayor Andrew J. Ginther announced the new sports park, the day before plans for a new downtown football stadium were unveiled. Indeed, Ginther immediately answered a political question: What is there for the average town’s residents to help develop Crew’s expensive new home, a proposal voted down by voters in 1997.

About 200,000 Columbus residents live within three miles of the proposed municipal park site at the former Mapfre Stadium, now known as Historic Crew Stadium. The sports park would be accessible to Milo-Grogan, Linden, Northland, the university district and other neighborhoods, and would serve as a regional destination for tournaments, Ginther announced in 2018.

“The only way public-private partnerships work, and the Columbus Way thrives, is if everyone benefits,” Ginther said at the event. “… If it’s not for all of us, then it just isn’t Columbus.”

But with the crew’s new Lower.com land and training facilities now complete, the sports park languishes without the necessary land in the form of a long-term lease from the state. The project was due to start on July 1.

Ginther was not available to be interviewed for this story, spokesperson Robin Davis said. But she said city officials believed a deal with the state was near.

“We have a near final lease project and have outlined the city’s commitments that the Expo Commission board is considering,” Davis said in an email Friday. “We plan to have a very short term lease.”

The Dispatch asked both Davis and the Expo Center for a copy of the proposed “near final lease bill” after Davis revealed its existence, but neither was able to. provide immediately.

Land lease could cost significantly more than Columbus’ initial offer

“We believe that the Expo (Center) will be more than complete (financially) through our partnership. In fact, we expect to generate new income opportunities,” said Davis. “The Expo Commission has never set a price on the lease, and we don’t expect lease payments to be a barrier to finalizing the deal. “

That said, when the team approached the exhibition center for the pitch needed to expand their training facility at the site of the team’s historic stadium, it ended up costing much more than the $ 100,000 per year. offered by the team. While the deal starts at $ 100,000 per year, by 2025 it doubles to $ 200,000, all on top of an upfront payment of $ 2 million that was due last spring at the Exhibition Center.

The city, on the other hand, initially offered the state $ 10 to lease land for its municipal park for a century. The state responded last January that it would want more and also want to reduce the lease term to a maximum of 75 years, corresponding to Crew’s training grounds lease.

Plans showed that the proposed park would provide an indoor recreation center with basketball courts and other programming spaces – perhaps even a full indoor football pitch – as well as up to six other football pitches in outdoor turf, envisioned as a venue for regional youth tournaments.

“The question is: when is it going to be built? asked Nana Watson, president of the Columbus branch of the NAACP, who attended Ginther’s press conference on December 5, 2018, announcing it.

Watson said such youth recreation facilities can help keep teens out of trouble during a time of increasing urban violence. “We hope that they will keep their commitment to the residents of the region where this facility is going to be built,” she said.

The document indicating that the sports park could cost the city more than the $ 12 million budgeted does not explain why, or if that includes the payment of land to the state. The actual sports park budget “will be based on the initial cost estimates for the program as developed by (the project consultant) Legends / CSL and included in the next amendment,” the meeting summary reads.

Underestimated Crew Agreement Taxpayer Costs

In late 2020, the city hired Convention Sports and Leisure (CSL) on a $ 326,000 contract for the design and planning work for the new sports park. CSL is a division of Legends Global Planning, the same company that announced in July 2019 that it had been hired by The Crew to oversee the planning and marketing of the Downtown Stadium and the team’s training center at the Historic Crew. Stadium, formerly known as Mapfre Stadium.

Although new football pitches are being built as part of a Columbus Crew training facility, there are no football, basketball, or other recreational opportunities for the general public around. from the Mapfre stadium.  On December 5, 2018, the day before a new downtown football stadium was announced, city leaders from Columbus gathered at Mapfre Stadium to reveal the city will be transforming the parking lots at the State Fairgrounds. into a new public recreational sports park.

The sports park’s budget of $ 12 million was set in the total spending plan for the new Crew Stadium project, which included the construction of the Lower.com field and the transformation of the old Mapfre stadium into a training hall. / concert hall for teams. The team’s expanded $ 29 million outdoor private practice facility opened as planned in June – encroaching on the footprint of what was originally proposed as the city’s public playgrounds.

The city initially announced in December 2018 that it would donate $ 50 million for development related to the Crew Stadium project, an amount approved by city council in a memorandum of understanding. But the city exceeded that figure by more than double. Costs included moving a main sewer line, building roads and sidewalks, installing traffic lights, building a city-owned parking lot just steps from the stadium, and donating dozens millions in cash – the caveat being that city dollars could not go directly to building the current stadium.

Columbus Crew's new downtown stadium, Lower.com Field, seen in November.

At a stadium inauguration in 2019, Ginther said the final amount at the time was just under $ 114 million, which would generate a “pretty good return” on jobs and investment. private.

The city’s utilities department was required to fund infrastructure – streets, sidewalks, lighting, etc. – around the new stadium and mixed-use development. He has spent $ 6.45 million so far, which “represents the work done so far,” Civil Service spokeswoman Deborah Briner said in an email.

“Additional infrastructure improvements will be funded from the public infrastructure project budget as development of the mixed-use site continues,” Briner said.

Briner said the city couldn’t say how much remained to be funded because “the project is not calculated in terms of percentage of completion as it goes.”

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