They’re READI: Holcomb announces $6 million grant to NexusPark

Gov. Eric Holcomb visited NexusPark in Columbus to announce that a number of projects from across Indiana have been approved for economic development funds — including NexusPark itself.

“Where we stand has been a long time in the marking, and there have been twists and turns along the way,” Holcomb said Thursday morning. “… I think we’re landing in a transformational spot.”

The NexusPark project is receiving a $6 million Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative (READI) grant, said Columbus Director of Administration and Community Development Mary Ferdon. This will be used for the development of Columbus Parks and Recreation Department offices and community spaces.

NexusPark is a joint effort by the city of Columbus and Columbus Regional Health to redevelop the former FairOaks Mall into a health, wellness and recreation center.

State officials, local leaders and members of the media gathered in the former Carson’s — now cleared out from internal demolition — to hear a READI update from Holcomb and state Secretary of Commerce Brad Chambers.

The mall redevelopment project was included in the South Central Indiana Talent Region’s READI proposal. The region — which includes Bartholomew, Jackson and Jennings counties, as well as Edinburgh — was awarded a $30 million READI grant in December. The competitive grant program encouraged Indiana communities to partner together on proposals for future growth and improvement in their region, particularly in regards to talent attraction and retention.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. (IEDC) is on track to allocate 40% — or $200 million — of READI funds by the end of July. The state expects to designate the remaining $300 million by the end of the year.

The state’s investment is expected to yield an additional $9.86 billion in public, private and nonprofit contributions.

“This is impressive,” Holcomb said of the NexusPark plans. “And this project, this NexusPark, is exactly what we were looking for. It’s kind of outside-the-box thinking where it’s customer-centric, a community magnet that’s going to pull thousands upon thousands of residents and visitors to this very patch of property.”

NexusPark is expected to include an indoor fieldhouse, Columbus Parks administrative and recreational spaces, restaurant and retail areas and CRH facilities. The NexusPark site will also have “outdoor community park and gathering spaces” and Dunham’s is expected to remain on-site under its current lease.

According to state officials, only parks offices and community spaces will be funded through READI. This includes parks administration offices, community conference rooms, youth multi-purpose rooms, low-cost fitness areas, a child watch area and a teaching kitchen.

Local leaders expressed gratitude for the state’s investment.

“It has, for some time, been an observation of mine that while companies move to states, people move to communities,” said Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop. “Indiana has done an excellent job over the last several decades of recruiting companies to our state. Those companies are attracted by our advantageous business climate, low but reasonable taxes and our location. People, however, are attracted to communities. They don’t move to states. They move to Austin, Boulder or Columbus, Ind. What attracts people are communities that are welcoming, safe, fun and that offer outstanding schools. READI helps us with that.”

As of Thursday, 12 of 17 READI regions had finalized grant agreements with the IEDC and planned to move forward with 53 projects from their proposals. During the press conference, officials highlighted certain initiatives such as NexusPark, a new hotel and conference center in Kokomo, the Grant County Performing Arts Center, and a sports complex in Shelbyville.

The indoor sports complex — a project of the Accelerate Rural Indiana Region — is expected to cost $21 million, with a READI allocation of $2.5 million. The facility will be located in Shelbyville’s Blue River Park and “provide a safe, indoor, multi-purpose sports venue that can be utilized for a wide variety of sporting and community events.” This includes hardcourt and turf sports, sports training, cooking demonstrations, tradeshows and concerts.

The facility will be owned through Shelbyville’s Parks and Recreation Department and managed by a private entity via an operation agreement. With only 30 miles between Columbus and Shelbyville, complex could be a potential competitor for NexusPark.

The total cost of the Columbus NexusPark project is expected to be nearly $92 million. According to Ferdon, this includes more than $40 million from CRH, $1 million in American Rescue Plan funding, nearly $40 million from the city and redevelopment commission, and $6 million in READI funds. Donors are also being sought to “fill in the gaps.”

“As you can see, this project is a huge and ambitious investment in our local community, and it has already started to be a local and regional economic driver,” said Ferdon. “The additional READI funding is an example of how the state can help communities attract new talent and be an attraction for those living there by providing, again, quality of life, quality of place and quality of opportunity.”

Holcomb said he hopes to do a second round of READI grants, especially given the state’s “strong fiscal position.”

“I know — and looking at all the different communities here, I’d say the same for them — but I know that Columbus has more to discover,” he said. “And we’re angling to help Columbus to do just that.”