The Columbus Redevelopment Commission had the power to authorize $496,900 on its own to pay a contractor to create schematic drawings for the proposed Columbus Riverfront project.
But wisely, the panel decided to give the Columbus City Council a say and see whether council members were ready to also support the project. They did, unanimously approving the expenditure at the March 6 council meeting.
From experience, that’s smart business.
Expenditures of $500,000 or more by the commission require the council’s approval, but the commission asked for council approval anyway in an effort of transparency.
Had the redevelopment commission written a check only to have the city council quash bigger spending commitments later on, the $8.6 million concept plan would have been a serious waste of taxpayer money.
In 2015, a proposal for a $2.5 million 12-foot-wide, 600-foot-long concrete Riverwalk Pedestrian Bridge endorsed by then-Mayor Kristin Brown similarly had a portion of the project ($282,500 for engineering fees) sent by the redevelopment commission to city council. However, it failed to muster a vote when council members didn’t see the project as one worth pursuing at the time, saying they wanted to see more options to explore.
The outcome is different this time.
The Columbus City Council is on board and has given the Columbus Redevelopment Commission the green light to spend $496,900 for Naperville, Illinois-based Hitchcock Design Group to create the schematic drawings and conduct design development work for the project along the East Fork White River between the Second and Third streets bridges.
The project calls for multiple overlooks of East Fork White River, connections to the People Trail system and an in- water recreation park that could support kayaking, tubing and canoeing. Also, the low-head dam would be removed, improving safety.
We think this project will create a needed gathering point downtown for the community, and an attraction for visitors that should help tourism.
The potential payoff here is the impact it has on quality of life and making Columbus a desirable place to live and work. The reason that’s important is the overarching need for more people to fill the growing number of jobs in the community.
The city has been engaged in a talent-attraction campaign, and projects such as this are pieces that make Columbus interesting and desirable.
As the redevelopment commission moves ahead, though, it should continue to work transparently and with the level of restraint it showed in seeking city council approval first before forging ahead with spending. That means also factoring in any relevant feedback that comes from current efforts to create an new downtown strategic plan.
That planning process is intended to create a blueprint for improvements and initiatives. A project as big as the Riverfront should be in sync with the downtown strategic plan.
That said, the project has the potential to do something significant for the community.
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