COLUMBUS — The future of Columbus Downtown Inc., the nonprofit corporation whose role in revitalizing the city’s core has drawn derision as well as praise, might hang on the outcome of next month’s mayoral election.
Republican hopeful Kristen Brown says she would stop using the organization, commonly known as CDI, immediately upon taking office and take steps to dissolve it.
Her Democratic opponent, Priscilla Scalf, says CDI has proven itself a valuable tool in spurring private-public partnerships and holding down costs paid by taxpayers. She said she would continue its use if elected mayor.
Lawyers for the city created CDI on behalf of the Columbus Redevelopment Commission to manage parking space leases and restaurant leases in the Fourth Street parking garage. City officials have said CDI is exempt from bidding laws that normally regulate public bodies.
Brown and Scalf say CDI should open its books, at least to some extent. Brown advocates opening all CDI activities to scrutiny, including details of negotiations with private companies. Scalf would open CDI records only after sensitive negotiations are complete, as the city does now.
Their views on the future of CDI are less nuanced. Redevelopment Commission Executive Director Ed Curtin and Bruce Donaldson, an attorney with Barnes & Thornburg, said they have not looked into the steps necessary to dissolve CDI — or whether dissolution is even possible at this point.
Brown said a public bidding process for the work needed to finish leased tenant spaces — The Commons restaurants, for example — would have guaranteed competitive prices while assuring that the city was operating in the public’s best interest.
She said the city would not lose future development if CDI went away, despite the claims by some city officials that private companies prefer to work with nonprofit corporations.
Scalf said she supports the continued use of CDI.
“You can talk about getting rid of it, but what would you replace it with and at what cost to the taxpayer?” Scalf said.
She said CDI keeps the city’s and the taxpayers’ best interests in mind.
Curtin said CDI has served the city well and would do so in the future, if given the opportunity.
He said he does not know if a better development tool exists.
“We’ve never done it any other way,” Curtin said.