Funding for a Crump Theatre renovation has turned into a cart vs. horse issue.
The Columbus City Council doesn’t want to decide about allocating more than $10 million in taxpayer money to fund the renovation until a business plan is in place for the 125-year-old facility.
The Columbus Redevelopment Commission doesn’t want to allocate $20,000 for a study to create a Crump business plan without assurances that the city council is open to allocating money to renovate it.
In the meantime, the Crump’s owner, the Columbus Capital Foundation, is nearly out of money to keep utilities on in the building.
On Tuesday, council members balked at promising to spend $10.8 million in tax-increment financing district funds for the renovation.
And they learned from Crump steering committee spokesman Bob Crider that the city would need to purchase the theater from the foundation in order to renovate it.
Tracy Souza, president and CEO of the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, said she is privately raising enough funds to pay the Crump’s utilities until the city makes a decision.
“We’re going to stay the course and keep trying to figure out how to keep the Crump available for the city,” she said.
The community foundation oversees the Columbus Capital Foundation.
Souza said discussions have taken place with Mayor Kristen Brown and Redevelopment Director Heather Pope about the city purchasing the theater, but that depends on the city council approving funding for the renovation.
Council members said they could not make a decision about allocating city funds for the project until they know how the Crump would operate and who would operate it.
The council needs to see the business plan before it can decide to allocate the funds, Councilman Kenny Whipker said.
“They are tax dollars taken away from something else and going to a TIF district,” he said.
Councilman Tim Shuffett asked if any private funding had been lined up for the project.
Crider said, “There are a few sources that we know about, but nothing official.”
Brown said earlier that the renovations could be paid for through a combination of private donations and tax-increment financing district funds and that more than half the cost would be covered by public funds.
Property in a TIF district is taxed based on its assessed value. New investment, completion of projects or improvements to property can lead to higher assessed values and more property tax revenue. It’s the amount of the increase that can be used for development in that TIF district instead of being given to other taxing units in the district, such as schools, libraries or townships.
Because the Crump renovation would cost more than $500,000, use of TIF funds would need to be approved by city council, the mayor said.
The Central TIF district fund, where the Crump funding would be drawn from, has $5,515,748 in it, Columbus Clerk-Treasurer Luann Welmer said.
A new state law requires city redevelopment bodies to know what projects they will appropriate TIF funds for by July 15, Redevelopment Director Heather Pope said in an earlier interview.
Before the redevelopment commission approves funding a business plan study, the mayor said, she brought the issue before the city council to see if members thought it would be a good use of money and time to save the Crump.
“It’s a little premature until we see a business plan,” Whipker said. “I can’t say yes or no. I don’t know what the impacts will be.”
Shuffett said that, if funding the renovation project were up for a vote, he would vote “no.”
“We don’t know how to operate it. We don’t have a business plan,” he said. “There’s obviously not any private money at this point in time that’s known.”
Although Crider told the council that renovating the Crump has broad community support, Councilman Ryan Brand questioned the extent of that support.
Crider said that out of the 400 to 500 responses the steering committee had received from residents, 85 percent of them were in favor of the renovating the 125-year-old theater.
Councilman Frank Miller said he also would need to see a business plan before he could decide on spending taxpayer money on the project. He said many of his constituents have not been in favor of the project.
“I’m hearing a lot of negativity about spending tax dollars,” Miller said. “They’ve been doing that since the whole time we’ve been going through the Crump study.”
Miller also expressed concern that the city would never recoup the money spent on the project just by selling tickets.
But Columbus Capital Foundation President Hutch Schumaker said this project would be no different than recouping money on upgrades to the Hamilton Center Ice Arena or Donner Pool.
Schumaker said most of the public recreational facilities can’t afford renovations on their own, and yet the city has paid for upgrades with tax dollars. He said that an upgrade to the Crump should be viewed in the same light.
“You need to keep in mind that this is somebody else’s recreational facility,” he said. “Everybody needs a shot at what kind of recreation they would like to do in their lives, and this is another form of that.”
The steering committee will ask the redevelopment commission at its June 16 meeting to fund the study.
The redevelopment commission already has spent $95,520 in taxpayer funds on the Crump, signing a contract in December 2013 with Lafayette-based theater consultant Jones & Phillips Associates to evaluate the Crump and advise on future uses for the building.
The consultants presented several scenarios to the redevelopment commission in March. They also revealed the Crump has several structural and safety issues.
The Crump steering committee then selected a $10.8 million plan that calls for a 450-seat renovated theater with an expanded lobby, new handicap-accessible public restrooms and dressing rooms, greater stage depth, an improved show load-in and improved acoustics, Crider said. The Crump has 632 seats now.