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Column: Process still imperfect; negotiations necessary

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LIKE it or not, the city of Columbus has few options beyond coming to an agreement with Buckingham Cos. on a pledge made two years ago to pay developers of the Cole Apartments $300,000, a sum that had been earmarked for architectural fees.

Mayor Kristen Brown, who took office in January, initially challenged the obligation questioning the wording of the initial agreement and the fact that it was offered by Columbus Downtown Inc., the private company that worked on behalf of the Redevelopment Commission.

The mayor has since charged that CDI had no legal right to obligate the city to pay any amount of money but has vowed to keep all such agreements in the public eye going forward.

There is no question that the process was imperfect, but officials with the Indianapolis-based company still look upon the arrangement as a legal commitment and want their money.

Fortunately, city officials and the Cole developers appear willing to look for ways to work out a solution to the issue. Mayor Brown and other city officials will meet with representatives of the Buckingham Cos. this week.

It is important that this issue be resolved through compromise. That compromise will undoubtedly involve some form of payment to the developers.

For the city to stonewall this issue or to simply walk away without paying anything could have repercussions far beyond the original $300,000 commitment.

That action would almost certainly result in legal action against the city. The legal fees alone in defending the city’s position would eat up a large chunk of the $300,000. The city also could lose the suit and be forced to pay the original amount plus interest and penalties.

Those losses might be considered peanuts when taking into account the damage to the city’s reputation.

Columbus could be branded in the minds of potential developers as both untrustworthy and unreliable, an image that could spell economic disaster.

Regardless of how this situation was handled, the provision of incentives to potential developers is an essential element for communities seeking growth.

The developers of the Cole Apartments were offered a number of attractive incentives to build a residential complex in the downtown area. While some critics question that generosity, the cost to the public of those incentives is minuscule compared to the benefits the city will realize in the future.

Indeed, the apartments are a vital factor in the downtown growth that has already taken place. Such a residential feature was essential for hundreds of the new workers who have flooded the downtown area because of investments by Cummins Inc.

Had not those apartments become reality, the city would have been faced with the prospect of covering up the facade of the parking garage they now encircle, a facelift that was estimated at close to a million dollars.

This project represents a giant leap forward in the revitalization of the downtown. After decades of a status quo in downtown development, the city now has a central district that is thriving with businesses and restaurants.

For this community to build upon what has been achieved, it is important that current city leaders resolve this matter and get it behind them.

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