Commons’ financials see improvement in 2021

The Commons — previously a bustling center of downtown activity — has largely been closed since the beginning of the pandemic.

The indoor playground, which has been upgraded, remains shut down, with a reopening date not yet announced.

Both of the center’s interior fast-food tenants have opted to terminate their leases, given the struggles of ongoing closure. Public and private events continue to be held at the venue, but these have been more sparse than in prior years.

However, in spite of the challenges, The Commons’ 2021 financials are looking better than those of 2020, and Manager Shanda Sasse said officials feel optimistic.

“It was a good year, and we are excited about the year to come,” she told the Commons Board at a recent meeting. She also thanked staff for stepping up during another difficult year.

According to a recent financial report, Commons’ revenue was about $1.05 million in 2021 — up from $820,000 in 2020 and $1.004 million in 2019. Parks associate director of business services Pam Harrell said the increase is partially due to approximately $215,000 that The Commons received from the city’s COVID-19 relief funds as reimbursement for antibacterial playground flooring.

In April, Columbus City Council approved a resolution to transfer $176,272.87 from the city’s general fund reserves to The Commons fund reserves.

According to the resolution, the parks and recreation department spent $215,050 on the new antibacterial flooring and initially received “$38,777.13 in available CARES funding for reimbursement of the playground renovation project.” The council therefore passed the resolution to make up the remainder of the cost.

If $215,000 is excluded, revenue is still up about 1.7% from 2020.

“Compared to 2019, our revenue was down $169,000 if you exclude the flooring reimbursement, but … I’m hoping 2022’s going to be better,” said Harrell.

2021 expenditures totaled a little under $900,000, compared to about $1.16 million in 2020 and $1.06 million in 2019. Harrell noted that if capital expenses are excluded, expenditures were up about 4% from 2020 but down 7% from 2019.

Like Sasse, she said that 2021 was “a good year for The Commons.”

The Commons hosted 232 events in 2021, with 118 of these being rental events. The overall number of guests was 20,778, and the total event revenue was $99,130. The figures are an uptick from 2020, which saw 200 events (89 rentals), 15,776 guests and $79,420 in revenue.

However, it’s still a significant drop from 2019, which had almost 600 events (209 rentals), 66,262 guests and nearly $160,000 in revenue.

“The year began at a slow place as we were limited in what events we could support under the state and local COVID-19 guidelines in place at the time,” Commons officials said in a year-end report. “We adjusted accordingly throughout the year. As with past years, we aimed to offer a balance of free, ticketed and private events. The 2023 booking window opened on December 1 and inquiries remain steady.”

Profit from rental events isn’t the only revenue stream that has been affected by COVID-19. Similar to 2020, 2021 saw minimal revenue from lease payments due to rent abatements granted by the Columbus Redevelopment Commission to restaurant tenants amid the pandemic. The 2021 revenue from lease payments was approximately $47,000 — slightly higher than in 2020, which was about $44,800. In contrast, lease payments brought in about $127,000 in 2018 and $140,000 in 2019.

Commons officials noted in their year-end report that Bucceto’s and Luciana’s abatements were extended through June of 2021, and Subway and Orange Leaf’s abatements lasted all year.

The latter two restaurants both decided to leave The Commons in 2021. Subway began formal negotiations about ending its lease a year ago and left on June 30, according to city officials. In November of 2021, the redevelopment commission approved a resolution authorizing Devour, LLC, doing business as Orange Leaf, to terminate its lease effective at the end of 2021.

Both restaurants had been closed since March of 2020 and were granted continuing rent relief by the commission due to their inability to open, as they have no external entrances. Sasse said in September that Orange Leaf was also waiting on a reopening date for the Commons indoor playground. The renovation project has faced delays due to supply chain issues.

“Overall, we made some extraordinary progress (on the playground), and we will be excited when the time comes to reopen that,” Sasse said.