City to consider buying Cummins Sears office building for proposed hotel conference center

New uses are being considered for the former Sears building in downtown Columbus. Photographed Jan. 22, 2015.

The city of Columbus is eyeing the Cummins Sears office building as the potential new site of a proposed hotel conference center in the city’s downtown, officials said.

City Redevelopment Director Heather Pope told The Republic that the city has submitted a letter of interest to Cummins Inc. “to let them know that we are interested in (the property).”

Cummins said earlier this week that it is selling the 91,380-square-foot office that occupies the block surrounded by Fourth, Jackson, Third and Brown streets, as well as another downtown office, “to offer the ideal work environment for our employees and align with the workspace needed.”

Pope said the availability of the Cummins Sears office prompted city officials to reconsider the location of the proposed hotel conference center. The current proposed site for the hotel conference center is the block surrounded by Second, Franklin, Third and Lafayette streets in downtown, which the commission acquired through a property-swap agreement with Bartholomew County in 2022.

“Generally, we all agreed that (the Cummins Sears office) would probably be a better location,” Pope said. “Now, what form that takes, I don’t know. And how we’ll proceed from here, we’re yet to figure out,” Pope said.

Pope said the next steps would be for the Columbus Redevelopment Commission to authorize city officials to negotiate a sales price with Cummins and purchase the property.

The Columbus City Council also will likely have to sign off on the purchase price, as the commission is required to get the council’s approval for any expenditure over $500,000. Cummins bought the property from the Columbus Capital Foundation for $3 million in 2015, according to county real estate records.

Pope said the commission could consider the purchase of the property as early as next month.

The update comes a week after city officials said they were “reconsidering all options” for the downtown hotel conference center project, which has largely been stuck in a holding pattern since the city and developer mutually agreed to part ways last year.

The project, first proposed in 2018 following the demolition of the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center on the city’s west side, a market analysis by consultant Hunden Strategic Partners and the Envision Columbus downtown development strategic plan, has sought to build a new hotel conference center with roughly 140 guest rooms, a 9,000-square-foot ballroom and other meeting spaces in downtown Columbus.

However, the project has faced a series of setbacks in recent years amid rising construction costs and a pandemic that severely hobbled the hospitality industry.

Should the city decide to move forward with purchasing the Cummins Sears office, it would raise questions about what the future holds for the current proposed site, where the former court services building was demolished last year to make way for the hotel conference center.

Under the land-swap agreement, the commission took ownership of the block surrounded by Second, Franklin, Third and Lafayette streets, which previously housed the Bartholomew County Court Services building, and agreed to contribute $1.5 million to the construction of a new court services building south of the Bartholomew County Jail.

Officials said last week that they have not yet determined what they would plan to do with the current site that was acquired in the land-swap agreement with the county, as they are “still very much in the preliminary discussion/planning phase.”

Pope said the city is interested in the Cummins Sears office largely because it is centrally located and offers the chance to extend the city’s entertainment corridor along Fourth Street.

The office building already houses YES Cinema, which officials said would be incorporated into any plans for a hotel conference center on the property.

“Absolutely, we want to keep YES Cinema,” Pope said. “They’re a pillar in our community. …They’re part of our downtown activation. So, no matter what we would do (with the property), we would want to keep them.”

In 2015, Cummins announced plans expand into the then-vacant former Sears property, which had been the anchor of The Commons since the mall opened in 1973, The Republic reported previously. Company officials at the time said they were planning to locate up to 400 workers at the former department store.

However, the office has been vacant since the pandemic struck, with no employees working in the building since October 2022, a company spokesperson said earlier this week.

Cummins also said earlier this week that it is selling the Irwin Office Building and Conference Center in downtown Columbus at the corner of Fifth and Washington streets.

“After careful consideration, Cummins has made the decision to sell the Cummins Sears office building and Irwin Office which will enable us to offer the ideal work environment for our employees and align with the workspace needed,” said company spokeswoman Lauren Daniel. “Cummins is dedicated to Indiana and specifically Columbus, our global headquarters. The rich history of Columbus is important to us, and we will continue to do our part to make this a more economically and socially vibrant city.”