Council approves first reading of $3 million appropriation for NexusPark

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Mark Jones, director of Columbus Parks and Recreation, walks through the Circle K Fieldhouse at NexusPark in Columbus, Ind., Friday, July 28. 2023.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Mark Jones, director of Columbus Parks and Recreation, walks through the Circle K Fieldhouse at NexusPark in Columbus, Ind., Friday, July 28. 2023.

Columbus officials are seeking to appropriate $3 million from the city’s general fund for costs at NexusPark, though a couple of members of Columbus City Council remain concerned about the project.

The council voted 5-2 to approve the first reading of the additional appropriation ordinance on Tuesday, with council members Elaine Hilber and Grace Kestler in opposition. Ordinances require two readings for full approval, and the council’s next meeting is set for Oct. 3.

NexusPark is a joint effort between the city of Columbus and Columbus Regional Hospital to transform the former FairOaks Mall into a health, wellness and recreation center. The campus is expected to include parks department and community spaces, CRH facilities, restaurant and retail areas, and a fieldhouse.

Outdoor community park and gathering spaces are planned, and Dunham’s is expected to remain on-site under its current lease.

“The ordinance before you this evening is an additional appropriation of funds to help us complete the NexusPark project as well as to help us do some repair work,” said Jamie Brinegar, the city’s former director of finance, operations and risk.

He said that the appropriation will cover:

  • $500,000 for additional steel at the fieldhouse due to the results of a seismic study
  • $300,000 to put in more hardcourt at the fieldhouse than originally planned
  • $1 million for furniture, fixtures and equipment at the fieldhouse
  • $1 million for additional roof repairs on the existing mall building

“Before we even began building the fieldhouse, we had a seismic study done to make sure we were doing everything appropriately with a structure as large as the open span was going to be,” Brinegar said, in discussing the steel expenditure. “And discovered that due to the dirt that was on the site, we were going to need to have some more steel than what was initially thought.”

While this adds up to approximately $2.8 million, the city is requesting $3 million in case roofing costs are more expensive than expected, Brinegar said.

In discussing her concerns, Hilber said that the multiple funding sources and appropriations for NexusPark have made it difficult to get a full view of what the project is actually costing the city.

“I take pride in what we’ve been able to do to — cobble together isn’t the right word, but piece together funding to provide what I believe is a truly great project for the city,” Brinegar said.

“Absolutely. It’s just, it’s hard when all of the funding has been, like you said, cobbled together, so it’s hard to get a full view of what does this project cost, in total, and how much are we additionally appropriating for everything,” Hilber said.

Kestler likewise said that she hadn’t seen a publicly advertised budget or estimate for the total price.

On the other hand, other council members felt that some of the costs could not be foreseen and that it is important to finish well.

“Am I happy to vote yes on $3 million more?” said Councilman Frank Miller. “I think it’s something that we just have to do for them to finish the project and do it right.”

When asked about the cost of the city’s portion of the project, Brinegar told The Republic that the fieldhouse is estimated to cost about $30.7 million, and the parks department and community spaces are estimated at $21.4 million. These amounts include the proposed appropriations.

Parks Associate Director of Business Services Pam Harrell said in a previous interview that the city would work to negotiate a contract with Force Construction for work on NexusPark’s exterior campus. While an official contract amount has not yet been announced, she said that city officials were targeting a price of $6.5 million or less.

In addition to construction and renovation, there are other costs associated with the project as well. For instance, when the city and CRH partnered to purchase the mall property in 2018, the city put up approximately $4 million, or 75% of the property’s appraised value.

Other expenses include contracts with consultants, such as Legacy Sports Group.

In addition to bonds and appropriations, funding sources for the city’s portion of NexusPark include a $6 million Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative grant. The city has also worked to recruit donors to help fund pieces of the project.

For instance, Toyota Material Handling has committed $250,000 over five years for The Recreation and Entertainment Center, according to Senior Vice President of Operations, Engineering and Strategic Planning Tony Miller. The space, known as The REC for short, will be part of the new parks department and community spaces at the campus.