MKSK recommended to lead FairOaks redesign process

A FairOaks design committee will recommend MKSK for a contract to help guide the city through the process of defining the future of FairOaks Mall and Donner Center.

The recommendation on Friday came after two days of interviews with three firms vying for the job of helping the city decide how the mall could be transformed into a community wellness, recreation and sports tourism complex. The committee’s recommendation is the first of several steps in the process of approving the firm.

“There was a strong consensus that the preferred firm was MKSK,” said Tom Brosey, a former Cummins Inc. executive the city hired as a consultant for the project. “That’s not only from the (evaluation) team members that attended our meeting last night. We had written evaluations from all of the other committee members, and MKSK was either the number one from all the members or in a virtual tie with another firm. There was a very strong consensus not only from the evaluation team, but from the entire committee that MKSK is the preferred firm.”

MKSK is a collective of architects, urban designers and planners with studios in Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis and West Lafayette; Detroit, Michigan; Greenville, South Carolina; Louisville, Kentucky; and Cincinnati, Ohio.

Next, the committee will formulate a recommendation for the FairOaks Community Development Corp. board, the panel charged with giving approval on the firm. The board is expected to consider the committee’s recommendation April 30. The Columbus City Council would consider how to appropriate funds to pay for the city’s portion of the costs to pay the firm on May 21.

If approved, MKSK would help the city test the feasibility of proposed ideas for the project, conduct a market analysis and engage with the community to help the city decide what kinds of facilities should be built on the mall site and at Donner Center. No designs for any specific facilities have been drawn up.

During a Thursday presentation, MKSK officials focused on how they would incorporate community health and wellness and input from the public, local educational institutions and other stakeholders — including civic leaders, advocacy groups, adjacent landowners, business owners, among others — into the project.

MKSK representatives said they could deliver final recommendations to the city over the course of eight to nine months.

MKSK wouldn’t be the only firm to touch this phase of the project. Company officials said on Thursday that MKSK would partner with firms Perkins+Will, Moss and Greenstreet. Perkins+Will designed Central Middle School’s new building, which was completed and opened in 2007.

MKSK and Perkins+Will officials estimate that collecting public input and data to formulate a master plan and make recommendations to the city would cost around $194,700. Approximately 40 percent of the fee, or $77,700, would go to MKSK, $70,700 would go to Perkins+Will, $19,500 would go to Moss and $26,800 for Greenstreet.

However, company officials and committee members said the fees are initial estimates and could change.

“There’s going to be a process of sitting down with them and having a far more detailed discussion,” said Jeff Bergman, city/county planning director who serves on the committee. “I think we will see both schedule and fee move based on the discussion we have. Now, which direction it’s moving in is kind of hard to say yet. But after we actually select a firm, that’s the next step, to really get down into the weeds step by step about what they’re going to do and what schedule and fees look like.”

In February, the Fair Oaks Community Development Corp. Design Committee invited six firms — Johnson Johnson Crabtree Associates, RATIO, MKSK, Rundell Ernstberger Associates, Ghafari and SmithGroup — to submit development proposals for the mall. The firms were asked, among other things, to include parks and recreation facilities, an indoor sports field and health and wellness activities provided by Columbus Regional Hospital in their proposals.

Johnson Johnson Crabtree Associates later withdrew its proposal.

RATIO, MKSK and SmithGroup did open-to-the-public in-person interviews, which were Wednesday and Thursday at the mall.

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The FairOaks Community Development Corp. Design Committee’s recommendation is the first of several steps in the process of approving the firm.

Here are the next steps:

On April 30 at 1:30 p.m. at the Old J. Nicole Store space at Fair Oaks Mall, the FairOaks Community Development Corp. board, the panel charged with giving final approval on the firm, will consider the design committee’s recommendation.

If the board approves the firm, the Columbus City Council will consider how to appropriate the funds to pay for the city’s portion of the costs at the council’s May 21 meeting.

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On Dec. 14, Columbus finalized the purchase of the 35.36-acre mall property at 25th Street and Central Avenue for $5.9 million. The city put up approximately $4 million, or 75 percent of the property’s appraised value.

Columbus Regional Health contributed $1.3 million, or 25 percent of the appraised value. Additionally, the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County committed to providing $450,000, which is the difference between the selling price and the appraised value. Under state law, the city could not pay more than the appraised value.