Letter: Fight for new Commons symbol of leadership

From: Mickey Kim


There are always folks who don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

A perfect example is the recent letter that asked, “When they voted to tear down the old Commons and replace it with a new one at twice what it would have cost to remodel the old one, did that benefit you?”

Given the redevelopment of The Commons was the most ambitious and crucial civic project undertaken in decades, it’s important to know the facts, as well as the positions taken by our two mayoral candidates.

The Commons was a gift to Columbus from the Miller family in 1973. Unfortunately, after 35 years of service, the building’s HVAC and structural elements were beyond reasonable repair. The cost of making “Band-Aid” repairs was explored. HVAC repairs alone would have cost $6 million to $7 million. The glass curtain wall and wood floor system were similarly shot.

In total, Columbus could have spent $12 million to $13 million on repairs that might have extended the building’s life by five to seven years. However, we would still have an old building with an inadequate performance space and a too small, non-ADA compliant playground that had to be closed whenever an event was conducted.

It was in Columbus’ DNA that community leaders rallied in hopes of finding a better, long-term solution. After receiving input from 4,000 to 5,000 residents, a plan emerged whereby Columbus could have a brand-new, fully functional, $18 million community gathering space, but only have to pay $9 million.

The Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation and The Heritage Fund both pledged $3 million. In addition, Heritage Fund committed to raise the last $3 million in a campaign known as “A Cause in Common (ACIC).” I was Heritage Fund’s development chairman, but others did most of the heavy lifting.

ACIC launched May 13, 2008. Columbus was hit with its biggest natural disaster 26 days later. We were in the grips of a global financial crisis. Some argued it was too risky to proceed, but our city’s leadership understood the biggest risk was not having the courage and confidence in our future to move forward.

Faced with spending $12 million to $13 million on Band-Aids or $9 million for new, City Council unanimously approved the investment in early 2009. A remonstrance was filed, with the “Save the Commons” supporters prevailing, 6,835 to 413. The new Commons opened in April 2011. It has been the catalyst for $150 million in public/private redevelopment and led directly to hundreds of new, high-paying jobs coming to Columbus.

I believe the true measure of a community is how it responds when the going gets rough. ACIC was a resounding success, receiving 625 gifts totaling $4.2 million (the amount over $3 million will be used to fund future improvements). The Commons redevelopment project epitomized the very best of the “Columbus Way.” Councilman Jim Lienhoop voted in favor of the project. In an April 2011 interview, then-candidate Kristen Brown indicated she didn’t sign either the opposition or “Save the Commons” petition, saying, “I honestly didn’t have a viewpoint at that time.”