News Today – Sports park planned with Crew Stadium moved for lack of state land

by Guwahati_City

News Today | Today Breaking News – By

Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther said Thursday that the new sports park he promised as a public benefit to the plan to build a new Downtown soccer stadium for the Columbus Crew will be moved from the former Mapfre Stadium site to a city-owned plot on the Northeast Side.

The sports park will be constructed at Kilbourne Run, land near Westerville owned by the city and already the site of numerous outdoor public soccer fields. There, upgraded playing fields will be built on the 69-acre tract featuring natural and synthetic turf fields, “mini-pitches” and a centerpiece championship field with spectator stands, a locker room and lights, Ginther announced at a news conference.

Like the former project announced in 2018 to be constructed adjacent to the former Mapfre Stadium, the new park will have co-branding with the Crew, Ginther said.

Three and a half years ago, the Mapfre sports park was announced almost as if it were a done deal. It was to cost $12 million-plus and sit south of the old stadium on property owned by the Ohio Expositions Commission, which controls the Ohio Expo Center and State Fair. It would include outdoor playing fields and an indoor recreation center.

“This isn’t simply about saving a soccer team,” Alex Fischer, who then led the Columbus Partnership, a group representing the largest corporations and organizations in Columbus, said at the announcement. “…This is extraordinarily exciting about talking about putting the citizens first.

“Folks, we are proving that the impossible is possible.”

Ginther said then that the sports park was, to him, the most important part of the agreement to build the Crew a new Downtown stadium subsidized by taxpayers. It was so critical that he even held the announcement the day before taxpayers would learn what the Crew would be getting from the city.

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“By all accounts, the public-private partnership to save the Crew has been a striking success,” Ginther said Thursday, continuing to list the city’s contribution to the project at $50 million despite that The Dispatch has documented the price had skyrocketed past that amount long ago.

While the team got everything announced by Ginther in December 2018, the public’s promised new sports park — which was by now supposed to be nearing completion — never broke ground.

“It is time for us to make sure the community benefit we promised is realized by our residents in neighborhoods throughout our city,” Ginther said in explaining the decision to relocate the sports park to its new site.

Ginther said he still held out hope that the long-stalled negotiations with the commission that controls the historic State Fairgrounds would somehow be snapped from its 43-month deadlock.

The city has the funds and is ready to construct it if the Ohio Expositions Commission would agree to a lease, the mayor said.

Asked by The Dispatch if he should have promised city residents a new facility on land that the city didn’t yet control, Ginther responded that he did so with the backing of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.

“We made that announcement based on that commitment,” Ginther said. “…The governor made a commitment and I take him at his word.”

After negotiations quickly stalled, DeWine said publicly in the summer of 2019 that the state would accommodate the city’s park, but that support hasn’t yet materialized into action from the independent Expo board, of which nine of the 14 members are appointed by the governor to six-year terms.

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“The talks are ongoing,” said Dan Tierney, spokesman for DeWine, who had no estimate Thursday on when the multiyear negotiations might conclude. Any deal would align with “Expo 2050,” an ongoing examination of the future of the state fairgrounds, he said.

That initiative will develop a master plan and long-term vision for the fairgrounds expected to be ready by the end of the year, and could provide guidance to future sports park negotiations, Expo Center spokeswoman Alicia Shoults said in a written statement.

“We are pleased the City of Columbus will be continuing to invest in enhancing the community with sports and recreation following today’s announcement,” Shoults said.

While neither the city nor state has agreed to discuss what is holding back a deal, in 2021 The Dispatch used the Ohio Public Records Act to examine documents involved with the negotiations, which revealed:  

  • The city was offering to pay a total $10 in rent for the next century, which works out to less than a penny an acre per year, for prime state-owned land adjacent to a major highway, Interstate 71.
  • The state indicated it wanted to increase the city’s rent amount by an unspecified number, and lower the term to a maximum 75 years.
  • And the city attempted to get contractual approval from the state to build something different than a sports park if it ever so decided over the next 100 years, to which the state replied that the land must be used for a sports park “only,” or no deal.

While Ginther was busy announcing the new sports park in 2018, the Ohio Expositions Commission — which is the caretaker for land that has been part of the State Fairgrounds since 1886 — hadn’t even been briefed on the proposal, let alone agreed to anything. 

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Virgil Strickler, general manager of the Ohio Expo Center and State Fair, eventually announced his opposition to the project, saying parking space he would be giving up was too critical to the center and fairgrounds operations. That’s something he said he would have informed the city and its backers had they asked before making their announcement.

City Council President Shannon Hardin said at the 2018 sports park announcement that he had only one ask of Ginther in return for his support for the Crew Stadium project: “that we have a clear community benefit.” 

“When we started to talk about the repurposing of this (Mapfre) facility for this neighborhood who has for so often felt left behind, I said this is it, that is leadership,” Hardin said, adding that a sports park for Linden “meets those goals.”

The Dispatch asked Hardin’s office late Thursday if the new project still meets his goal of a clear community benefit given the city has owned the Northeast Side site since 2001 and could have built a sports park there without paying for a new Downtown stadium.

Council spokesperson Nya Hairston said Hardin couldn’t immediately be reached to respond.


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