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Editorial: Funding of downtown apartments has precedent

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WHILE a request to the city of Columbus to help underwrite construction of a planned $11 million apartment complex on Washington Street between Sixth and Seventh streets is almost certain to fuel a contentious debate, proponents of the plan have a number of arguments on their side.

One is precedent. A second is the ultimate bottom line.

The proposal in question is a plan by the Sprague Co. to build an 8,500-square-foot retail/apartment complex on what is now an unused lot in front of the Cummins Inc. parking garage.

The five-story building will accommodate 40 apartments in the four upper levels with the ground floor dedicated to commercial tenants.

Under the plan that has been presented, the city would be asked to forgo most of the property taxes that would have been paid over the next 22 years — that amount dedicated to the funding of a $2.5 million bond issue.

While that provision is regarded by some critics as going over the top in efforts to champion downtown revitalization, it has an obvious and inescapable precedent.

A similar arrangement was struck several years ago during the mayoral administration of Fred Armstrong in order to persuade the Buckingham Group of Indianapolis to go ahead with construction of the recently opened Cole Apartments.

To not consider that precedent would at the least be a slap in the face to a local concern.

It certainly would not look good to deny a local company the opportunity to invest in the downtown after having enticed a company from outside the city to do just that.

Emotional concerns aside, there are several other valid reasons for entering into this kind of arrangement. One is that without this kind of commitment from the city, the complex is unlikely to be built. That would leave an open space in the middle of the downtown, hardly the sign of a revitalized area.

Keeping it empty would also cost the city money, both in the short and long term. The city currently gains approximately $500 a year for its use as an empty lot.

Should the project go forward, the city’s redevelopment commission would receive an estimated $195,000 a year in property taxes, approximately $176,000 a year diverted to repayment of the bond issue over the next 22 years.

That would leave almost $20,000 a year that would flow into the Redevelopment Commission.

After 22 years, the project would fund the full amount in property taxes into city coffers.

Those are the direct benefits. The complex also will provide commercial space, adding to the diversity of choices available to all local residents, and the 40 apartments will provide living space in Columbus for people who might otherwise choose to commute from other communities where they would spend their money rather than in Columbus.

The attractive design of the building’s exterior promises to meld with the rest of Columbus’ distinctive downtown. Consider what an empty lot now adds to the look of the downtown.

Precedent certainly provides city leaders with good reason to approve this project, but in the long run, its immediate and long-term benefits speak for themselves.

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