Primer on Walesboro development project

What: The city of Columbus is working with its aviation board to sell and redevelop about 740 acres at the city-owned former Walesboro airport site south of Columbus.

Significance: The property is the only significant acreage in Columbus available for industrial economic expansion. It is not shovel-ready, meaning the necessary utilities and roads have not been installed, except for access and utility service for companies now located there, including Faurecia.

Current use: The city’s aviation board has been renting most of the acreage as farmland to generate income for Columbus Municipal Airport, which does not receive city funding for its operational expenses. Faurecia has a technical center on the property and purchased 36 acres in May for $1 million to build a new manufacturing facility on adjacent land. There are runways through the property that Faurecia and Cummins Inc. use for testing engines and emission control technology. Faurecia rents the land where its technical center is located and purchased land where the new manufacturing facility will be built.

Who makes decision on how the property will be redeveloped: The aviation board controls use of the property now. Any sale of the acreage is subject to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval as the site is a former airport. The aviation board is prohibited by the FAA from selling the land for less than assessed value, which the board says is $19,500 an acre. The Columbus City Council has final say on selling the acreage. 

About the property:

  • Any transfer of land would have to take into consideration terms of existing leases.
  • It is within a 100-year flood plain based on a recent Federal Emergency Management Agency study. The aviation board and the city are working with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and FEMA to demonstrate the area should not remain in the 100-year flood plain.
  • In its Request for Proposals, the city states that removal of one or both of the former airport runways will open up the majority of the site for a more efficient internal road and lot layout. The city’s Request for Proposals states that the loss of the runways as a vehicle test track could become an opportunity to create an updated facility for current users and draw new research and testing businesses to Columbus.
  • The site has access to existing utilities but may require updating electrical service, including adding a new substation, and adding sewer capacity.
  • The roads on the perimeter of the site are in generally good condition, but increased industrial development will require improvements at intersections and traffic signals to accommodate large vehicles.

Key players in the project:

  • Mayor Kristen Brown: Serves as president of the Columbus Redevelopment Commission and chairs Board of Works meetings, both of which use Request for Proposals to obtain professional services, sell property or obtain needed city property.
  • Columbus Redevelopment Commission: Brown, president; city council member Frank Jerome, vice president; Dave Wright, secretary; Robert Abrams (nonvoting member); Russell Poling Jr. and Laurie Booher. The redevelopment commission promotes and encourages business growth and expansion, while planning land use and improvements within the city of Columbus. The commission works on economic development issues, provides land use and development information to local elected and appointed officials, and provides public input on development, land use and other economic development issues. Brown and Wright represented the redevelopment commission in meetings with engineering companies interviewing to be a consultant on the Walesboro development project.
  • Columbus Aviation Board: Caleb Tennis, president; Dennis Tibbetts, vice president; Richard Gaynor, secretary; Jared Combs and Steve Fushelberger, aviation commissioners. Their role is to oversee operation of the Columbus Municipal Airport. Airport director is Brian Payne. The board supervises operation of Columbus Municipal Airport and its properties. Mayor Brown directed the aviation board to work with city officials on the development and/or sale of the former Walesboro property.
  • Aviation board subcommittee: Tennis and Tibbetts as a subcommittee of the aviation board met privately with prospects interested in possibly developing the former Walesboro property along with city redevelopment consultant Doug Pacheco to determine what requirements should be placed in a Request for Proposals for the former Walesboro airport property. Tennis and Tibbetts also met with three engineering firms the city was considering for consultant services for the property.
  • Columbus Redevelopment staff: Heather Pope, the city’s redevelopment director, has been on personal leave from the city since September. Pope supervises redevelopment projects for the city, including the former Walesboro airport property. Pacheco was hired in 2014 as a city redevelopment consultant to work on downtown redevelopment, the former Walesboro airport property and State Street revitalization. Pacheco has acted as supervisor for the Walesboro project for the redevelopment department but has stepped back into a part-time role to take a job in the private sector.
  • Columbus City Council: Tim Shuffett, president, and council memers Jim Lienhoop (also mayor-elect), Ryan Brand, Dascal Bunch, Frank Miller, Kenny Whipker and Frank Jerome. The city council would give final approval to any sale of the former Walesboro airport property, which also is subject to FAA approval. Beginning Jan. 1, newcomers Elaine Wagner, Tom Dell and Laurie Booher will replace Brand, Whipker and Lienhoop on the council.
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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.