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Few steps remain in Columbus Downtown Inc. shutdown

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The recently completed audit of Columbus Downtown Inc. was one of the few steps remaining before the current mayor can shut down the tool used by her predecessor to develop downtown.

In its heyday two years ago, the company helped develop the city-owned parking garages, bring restaurants downtown to The Commons and put together the deal that brought The Cole apartment complex, which is expected to open this week. The company also put together tentative deals for indoor and outdoor sports complexes, which never came to pass.

CDI was created in 2008 and used by then-Mayor Fred Armstrong’s administration to spur downtown development by holding public property and handling lease negotiations for retail and parking spaces in city-owned buildings and parking garages. The company has a three-member board appointed by the mayor, City Council and Redevelopment Commission. But because it was considered a private, nonprofit company, it was able to operate out of the public eye — without holding meetings in public or following government bidding processes.

Mayor Kristen Brown ran for office on a pledge to bring CDI’s dealings to light and to dismantle the corporation. She appointed Susan Fye as head of the CDI board with a mission to wind down the company. The audit was one of the final steps needed before the city can file for a dissolution of the company. The other steps are to hand off responsibility for the city-owned parking garages to a management company and to turn all of CDI’s funds over to the city.

“It is a huge relief to know that it is getting put to bed,” Brown said. “It has been a tremendous amount of work and a drain on resources this (past) year to deal with the liabilities inherited, to try to reconcile everything and get things transferred. It has been a big cleanup project.”

Final steps

All of the properties formerly owned by CDI have been turned over to the city’s Redevelopment Commission, including the city-owned downtown parking garages on Jackson Street and empty lots adjacent to the Bartholomew County Jail. All of the leases for restaurants in the city parking garage at Fourth and Jackson streets and The Commons also were turned over last year.

The city is nearing the end of its negotiations for the management contract for the parking garages, said Heather Pope, the city’s redevelopment director. Last month the Columbus Redevelopment Commission chose REI Real Estate Services to handle those duties. Pope said the attorneys are ironing out language in the contract. She had hoped to present the final contract to the Redevelopment Commission on Monday, but that will not be possible, she said.

Instead, Pope said the city likely will schedule a special meeting of the Redevelopment Commission in early February to finalize the contract. She said the company is scheduled to take over the management of the garages March 15.

Brown estimated that the city would receive about $185,000 from CDI accounts. That money would be deposited in the maintenance funds for the city’s two parking garages.

Fye said the company is running several rounds of legal advertising, seeking any remaining CDI creditors who need payments before the company folds.

On a personal level, Brown said her final step after CDI is dismantled will be to step down from the Redevelopment Commission, where she serves as president. In her place, Brown intends to appoint Fye.

Remaining property

Although not a loose end that must be handled before CDI can be dissolved, the city still is dealing with the package of properties the company put together for an indoor sports complex. The three adjoining properties, just east of the Bartholomew County Jail on Second Street, include one that was found to contain contamination from a former creosote plant. CDI handed those properties over to the Redevelopment Commission last year.

The city hired contractors last year who encapsulated the contaminated soil in an underground cell. The Redevelopment Commission on Monday will be asked to approve three sampling wells to test the fumes being released from the site at a cost of about $24,000. All told, the city will end up spending about $1.7 million to clean up the site, Pope said.

But it will only ever be usable as a parking lot or similar facility, Pope said. No one will ever be able to dig into the property more than two feet deep because it would rupture the containment. No building could be constructed there because no footers could be sunk into the ground, she said.

Brown said the indoor sports complex deal has completely fallen through and is off the table. Eventually the city could find another use for the properties and either sell them or give them to a developer as an incentive, Brown said.

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