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A company created as a tool for development in downtown Columbus is down to its final responsibilities before it will be dissolved.
The last responsibilities of Columbus Downtown Inc. revolve around the downtown parking garages. Renters of parking spaces in the two downtown city garages still make their checks out to Columbus Downtown Inc. CDI pays the utilities and maintenance contracts for the parking garages, and CDI has a contract with the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department to clean the garages.
But after city officials finalize a deal for REI Real Estate Services to manage the parking garages, there will be nothing left under CDI’s control.
“It will legally be dissolved,” Mayor Kristen Brown said.
In the year since Brown took office, the once influential not-for-profit corporation has dwindled to a shadow of its former self:
CDI was created in 2008 as a nonprofit corporation to develop downtown Columbus. It has a three-member board of directors, with the mayor, City Council and Redevelopment Commission each having one appointee to the board. The corporation never had any employees.
Susan Fye, a member of the Board of Public Works and Safety, has served as president of CDI since Brown took office and with Stan Gamso, the Redevelopment Commission attorney, has led the dismantling of the corporation. She said her task was to transfer every bit of business, liability and obligation from the private company back into the public realm.
She said she has found nothing that CDI did which could not have been done through public boards and government proceedings. Fye said it’s just that some of those matters would have taken longer.
“Because it was a private company and it was a not-for-profit, they were able to not follow the processes and the requirements” that public entities must follow, Fye said. “They did not have to go through the bidding and quoting process like government entities do.”
She said that CDI did not have to wait for scheduled public meetings to do its business or deal with second readings of ordinances and agreements or publicly open and consider bids.
“It really strikes you very clearly between what you have to do in the government realm and what you can do in a private company,” Fye said.
One of the headaches Fye has dealt with is the complexity and ambiguities of some of the agreements CDI held.
“There were a lot of items in gray areas that were kind of left hanging out there,” Fye said. “Someone had to resolve, cancel, transfer, completely dissolve those — each one of them.”
For example, each lease for the restaurants in the parking garage and in The Commons was different, with different payments and obligations.
“The one thing that took the longest that I didn’t see coming was that there were a lot of agreements out there that were just unclear,” she said. “Different people involved would interpret what they meant in different ways. There were some disputes there because things were not agreed upon and things were not written down.”
Fye said she wishes documentation of CDI activities had been better.
“A lot of things CDI did in the downtown area were very good for the city,” she said.
Before being elected mayor, Brown first rose to the public eye through her efforts to shine light on the deals CDI was cutting behind closed doors to bring restaurants to the parking garage at Fourth and Jackson streets. The previous city administration resisted efforts to make those dealings public. Brown went as far as to establish her own nonprofit corporation to compete against CDI for control of the leases for city-owned retail space.
Since becoming mayor, one of her goals has been to dismantle CDI and return its holdings and leases to city control.
“We are now operating under all of the public access laws and the public bidding laws and doing so openly, transparently and in accordance with the law,” she said. “That is a great step forward.”
Brown said about 20 percent of her time since becoming mayor involved unraveling the ties with CDI.
“We have spent an enormous amount of resources working on understanding the obligations that were created there, settling the obligations, transferring the assets,” she said.
“The real big step forward is that this is put behind us and we can now focus on moving things forward, which is the thing I am most excited about,” she added.
Brown said the last steps will be for the city to transfer any remaining funds in the CDI accounts to the Redevelopment Commission. Jeff Logston, the city’s director of operations and finance, said the city then will file dissolution paperwork with the secretary of state’s office.
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