Delaware County is linking its hopes of attracting a multi-million-dollar Columbus Crew soccer practice facility to the economic development of the Interstate 71-U.S. Route 36 interchange.

Delaware County is linking its hopes of attracting a multi-million-dollar Columbus Crew soccer practice facility to the economic development of the Interstate 71-U.S. Route 36 interchange.

County commissioner Todd Hanks on April 22 told his fellow commissioners he attended an April 19 meeting with representatives of the Crew and its development consultants, Pizzutti Solutions. Held at the Huntington Center in Columbus, the session focused on the county's efforts to attract the soccer facility.

A number of central Ohio communities began competing for the facility when the Crew announced in 2007 it wanted to move its training site from Obetz to a bigger location elsewhere. As the economy slowed and put the state budget under strain, talk about the practice facility faded. Hanks said the team never announced a new site and now is considering Delaware County as an option.

A representative of Pizzutti did not return a telephone message left April 23.

Hanks told the commissioners the potential value of the soccer facility is $15- to $20-million.

The county has taken long-term steps to prepare for further commercial development of the interchange area. Hanks said the county's success in winning the soccer facility will depend on that development.

An overall issue is whether the development can generate enough income and tax revenue to provide a tax-increment-financing deal that will fund infrastructure needs, such as roads, that the facility will need, Hanks said.

County officials earlier said the interchange could be "the next Polaris" and said the Crew was looking at the northeast corner of the interchange as a possible site.

Last August, commissioners authorized the spending of $40,000 to help pay for an interchange modification study for the interchange at U.S. Route 36 and Interstate 71.

The money will come from a revolving loan fund using grant money received through the Community Development Block Grant program. Block grants are used to increase the economic base of the county or increase employment opportunities, county economic development director Gus Comstock said last summer.

The study is expected to cost $120,000 and at least two developers will pay the remainder, he said.

The improvements will include work on the interchange, which is rated as "failing" by the Ohio Department of Transportation. That work is key to bringing new businesses to the area, Comstock said last year.

When county officials learned that at least two developers were considering major projects at the interchange, they brought all the parties involved ODOT, developers, area businesses, stakeholders and elected officials together to look for ways to come up with the best plan possible, Comstock said.

County engineer Chris Bauserman will oversee the study, which will be bid out to a private engineering firm.

"Our greatest hope is that at least one of the developers will have enough confidence in the economy to move forward and we will have a plan in place to get to ODOT for approval," he said.

Candace Preston-Coy

contributed to this story.