Redevelopment Commission shifts READI funds to riverfront project

A rendering of the proposed Columbus riverfront project as seen on

The Columbus Redevelopment Commission on Monday unanimously voted to approve a resolution that reallocates $5 million in reimbursable Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative (READI) funds from the city’s downtown hotel conference center project to the city’s riverfront project.

The vote authorizes Commission President Al Roszczyk to execute a READI sub-recipient agreement amendment to reallocate the funds, which could change the amount of tax increment financing (TIF) money that goes into the riverfront project, according to city officials.

A TIF district is a mechanism that allows the commission to siphon off increasing property taxes generated on commercial and industrial properties in a selected area to fund projects. TIF funds must be used for economic development or investment in infrastructure.

The Columbus City Council in December voted to approve $11.5 million in TIF funding for the riverfront project, which seeks to address safety issues related to the deteriorating low-head dam in the East Fork White River without damaging wetlands located upstream or impacting the river water level through Mill Race Park.

In addition, the project is expected to safeguard the riverbanks from ongoing erosion, including on the west side of the river near the Third Street bridge, which was the site of a landfill from 1938 to 1966 that is believed to have accepted 3.46 million gallons of industrial wastes, including solvents, bases, paints and heavy metals, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

City officials also have proposed building overlooks of the river, connections with the People Trail system and an in-water recreation area, branding the project as an effort to “create an iconic riverfront experience that improves safety.”

The city allocated another $2.4 million from other funding sources to the project, including the READI grant, a Next Level Trails Grant from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and contributions from Duke Energy and the Columbus Park Foundation. READI grants are administered by the state and funded through the American Rescue Plan (ARP).

The original amount of READI funds that went to the riverfront project was $600,000 — the resolution approved Monday raises that amount to $5.6 million.

The money is part of a pool of $30 million in READI funds the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) awarded to the Southern Indiana Housing and Community Development Corporation (SIHCDC), doing business as the South Central Indiana Talent Region, on May 12, 2022. The South Central Indiana Talent Region is comprised of Bartholomew, Jackson and Jennings counties, along with the town of Edinburgh.

SIHCDC had provided the city some of these funds for projects including NexusPark, along with the riverfront and downtown hotel conference center projects.

However, plans for the downtown hotel conference center have hit a snag “due to the crippling of the hospitality industry,” Pope said during the meeting.

The Indiana Economic Development Commission (IEDC) stipulates that in order for the funds to be received, construction on the downtown hotel conference center would have needed to start by the end of this year and be completed by 2026.

Rather than have those funds disappear, city officials saw it prudent to just transfer the money to the riverfront project after learning earlier this year that they would be able to do so, according to Pope.

“In short, this agreement is simply to put the process in place to be able to receive those funds from the IEDC.” Pope said.

Indianapolis-based firms Zurbuch Inc. and EDCO, who the city hired to be the riverfront project’s construction manager as constructor, sought bids for the project in January of this year, but they came in higher than anticipated, Pope said.

“We’ve opted to withdraw those bids and do some value engineering and try and get more bidders to bid on it the next time because we were also limited on the amount of bidders that bid on the project,” according to Pope.

Taylor Brothers was on the design team for the riverfront project and had given it a cost estimate of $14 million, which the TIF funding city council approved in December was based on.

The plan would be to rebid this spring, execute a contract by the fall and construction along the riverfront would start in the spring of 2025. Construction on the river itself would likely start in the July to October range of 2025 because they’re drier months more conducive for the work, according to city officials.

Just how much TIF funding will be altered will be determined once the project is rebid, Pope said. After, the matter will return to the city council, which will vote on a new resolution to amend the project’s funding.

With the reallocation, the amount of non-TIF dollars going to the riverfront project is about $7.4 million. Pope said they intend to use that $7.4 million before drawing on TIF funding.

Council President Frank Miller, who was the lone vote against funding the project in December, attended the redevelopment commission meeting. Miller had said at the time that he approved of the safety aspects of the project “but you lose me on the in-water features.”

“I do think it is important that the council has another look at the different buckets of money and how this project is going to move forward, because council voted on the idea that it was a $14 million project, $11.5 million of TIF,” Miller said during the redevelopment commission on Monday. “So however that rearranges then, it’s another financial transaction that the council should approve. I appreciate that you’re going to bring it back to us once you decide how that funding has evolved.”