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2 major renovation projects likely to miss district financing window


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A new state law regulating tax-increment financing districts means there won’t be as much taxpayer money available for proposed city renovation projects next year.

Among those projects are an estimated $1 million renovation of the Custer-Nugent Amphitheater in Mill Race Park and a proposed $10.8 million upgrade of the downtown Crump Theatre.

TIF funds are being considered to pay for both projects, but Mayor Kristen Brown said she hasn’t included either project in her 2015 TIF budget.

That means that proposed spending on the two projects doesn’t become part of the equation in determining how much TIF money the city keeps in its account and how much it must return to other governmental agencies within the TIF district.

A new TIF law, which takes effect July 1, requires a city’s redevelopment commission to tell the city council if yearly projections show that TIF spending is expected to be less than half of revenue collected.

Projections for next year show revenues from the city’s central TIF district, which is made up of the downtown area, are far exceeding spending. They show expenditures totaling $2.2 million, which is 42 percent of the expected revenue of

$5.4 million, according to budget documents provided by the mayor’s office.

Brown, who also leads the Columbus Redevelopment Commission, said based on those projections, she is recommending that the city give up $3.2 million in revenue from the central TIF in order to comply with the new law.

The law does not require a city to give money back but only requires a redevelopment commission to tell a city council if spending from the TIF is projected to be below half the revenue in the fund.

The $3 million will go to Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., the Bartholomew County Library and other local tax units that would have received the funding if the TIF fund weren’t in place.

Since Brown did not include the Crump and amphitheater renovations in the proposed 2015 TIF expenditures, there will be less cash available to pay for the projects next year if the projects are approved for funding by Columbus City Council.

Crump plans

A steering committee working on finding a new use for the Crump selected the $10.8 million renovation plan for the 125-year-old theater.

But the Columbus Redevelopment Commission hesitated at spending $20,000 in TIF funds for a business plan for the theater, with members saying they wanted to know whether the council would consider approving TIF funding for the renovation before moving forward.

Council members balked at that, saying they wanted to see a business plan before they would consider any Crump renovation funding.

Stepping back from the TIF funding request is all right with the steering committee, committee member Jayne Farber said. The committee is not ready to seek city money to fund the renovation, she said.

Instead, committee members will talk with other theater owners in the region to put together the best business plan possible to ensure that the 450-seat renovated Crump is a success when it opens up for business, Farber said.

“We want to hire someone to help us write the business plan and initially we thought we would go to Jones & Phillips Associates, our original consultants, and just have them help us with that,” she said.

In December, the redevelopment commission signed a $95,520 contract with the Lafayette-based theater consultant group to study

The Crump and its possible future uses. In March, the consultants presented the study conclusions that offered five possible scenarios for performance space in Columbus.

“Now that my team has thought a little bit more about this, really with the direction of City Council and the Redevelopment Commission, we thought, ‘Let’s take a little bit of time and find out who would really be the best to help us pull together a successful business plan,’” Farber added.

The steering committee has had one team meeting and decided to keep Jones & Phillips involved while also reaching out to theater owners in the southern Indiana area who have experience in operating successful small theaters, Farber said.

Committee members Cindy Frey, Bob Crider and Farber will interview the director of the Buskirk-Chumley Theatre in Bloomington, Danielle McClelland, to see if she is interested in developing a plan for The Crump.

McClelland used to be the program director for the Columbus Area Arts Council.

The committee would like to pay individuals or companies that help with developing the business plan, but there is no formal plan in place to do that yet.

Doug Harden, vice president of Brown County Playhouse Management, has offered to share the playhouse’s business plan with the Crump Steering Committee — for free.

The Crump Steering Committee needs to know its audience, build a brand for the theater and be as practical in the approach to the renovation as possible, especially knowing there is a large renovation cost associated with the project, Harden said.

“What you don’t want to do to the community as a whole is make the community feel resentful toward the facility,” he said. “What you want to do is make people feel like you’ve done a good job, you’ve done your homework, and this is the charge of this business plan, to make this work.”

Harden warned that the scenario won’t be “hand-over-fist successful” because “theaters aren’t.”

Once a business plan is in place, the steering committee will ask the redevelopment commission to adopt it. The committee will then look for an architect to design the blueprints for the renovations, Farber said.

Costs for that along with the cost of the concluded feasibility study would be about 11 percent of the total renovation costs, said theater consultant Van Phillips, with Jones & Phillips.

Fixing the amphitheater

Farber said a 10-member amphitheater steering committee recently interviewed representatives from three architectural firms interested in working on the project.

The firms were from Cleveland, New York City and Minneapolis. Representatives interviewed with the committee on Tuesday for a chance to redesign the outdoor performance space.

“The discussion and presentation was primarily about how each firm would approach the project, their previous experience in designing amphitheaters and general ideas about scope of work for our particular project,” she said.

No estimated costs were discussed during the interviews, she said.

The amphitheater is out of date and has several issues, including inadequate rigging and lighting and an electrical box that is constantly flooded, Farber said.

The venue was built in Mill Race Park in 1993 by architect Stanley Saitowitz. The park is located in a designated flood area, and the amphitheater is located in the floodway. The electrical panels for the venue are located at ground level, meaning electrical service must be shut off when flooding is possible, according to the project proposal document.

“We still have a lot more to do. How much will it cost? How much will we want to set aside for hiring an architect?” Farber said. “We would really like a firm to come in and show us what could be done. Once they show us what could be done, then we’ll cost it out.”

Farber said some of the more recent concerts in Mill Race Park were built around and away from the amphitheater because the stage couldn’t adequately handle the performers’ stage equipment.

The most recent case was when rock group REO Speedwagon performed at the Rock the Park concert in August. The band also brought a separate trailer for dressing room space.

“Obviously, it’s not being utilized a lot, there’s no protections designed for wind to protect the performers or their equipment,” she said. “The dressing rooms are concrete boxes that get flooded a lot. There’s just a lot of things that are wrong with it.”

Farber said the steering committee could recommend the redevelopment commission hire one of the architectural firms at a July 21 meeting, but it also could get pushed back as late as September if the committee needs more time to choose a firm.

If the cost exceeds $500,000, the expenditure then would need to be approved by city council, Farber said.

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