Grove City Council narrowly approved a $6 million bond program to provide funding for extending Columbus Street to support the proposed redevelopment of Beulah Park.

Council voted 3-2 on Dec. 18 to approve the funding mechanism, with Councilmen Steve Bennett, Ted Berry and Roby Schottke voting for the ordinance and Steve Robinette and Jeff Davis voting against it.

Robinette said he wasn't opposed to the project but to its timing.

"This may end up being something wonderful," he said. "The problem is we don't know what it's going to be. We haven't determined what type of development" would be built at the Beulah Park site.

"Right now, it's premature to move ahead with just a roadway," he said.

Council should hold more discussions with the developer and not approve the funding for the extension until it has a more detailed plan for what would be included at Beulah Park that is acceptable, he said.

"We are all looking for an A-level project," Davis said.

But at this point, "there are more questions than answers," he said.

After two years of discussion, "we still have no definitive answers regarding (the closing of Grant Avenue) and we still have no plan for how we attract developers to the plaza" that would be built as part of the Columbus Street extension," he said.

The issue of the Columbus Street extension "didn't just drop on our desk," Bennett said.

"It's been (on the table) for an extended period of time," he said.

The city is looking to "take on what it's supposed to do, which is developing streets," he said. "We don't develop the development."

Council already approved the realignment of Columbus Street with the intention of pushing the road through the Beulah Park development.

If the city fails to move ahead with extending Columbus Street, "then all we are doing is signing a death-knell for the downtown," Bennett said.

What is possible if Columbus Street is extended can be seen with Buckeye Parkway "and how much that has transformed the east side of Grove City," Schottke said.

He likened the area that would be affected by the Columbus Street project to a cave.

"There's nothing in there," Schottke said. "There's nothing that will draw people to that area."

Putting in a road "will create opportunity for developers, opportunity for people in the city and the opportunity to bring more people into the downtown area," Schottke said.

"This is just the first tip of the iceberg to start the process. We still have discussion to have and problems to solve, but if we don't start the journey, we won't get there at all," he said.

Council decided Dec. 4 to delay a vote to get more information.

Councilman Ted Berry said the analysis was provided by Pete DiSalvo, an economic development consultant who had provided analysis to the Pizzuti Co. on its Broadway Station apartment project. The preliminary plan for Beulah Park proposes a mixed-use development that would include class A office space, which the downtown area lacks, Berry said.

The Building Owners and Managers Association International describes Class A space as "most prestigious buildings competing for premier office users with rents above average for the area. Buildings have high-quality standard finishes, state-of-the-art systems, exceptional accessibility and a definite market presence."

DiSalvo's analysis indicates that if 24,000 square feet of office space were built, it would result in the addition of 144 office employees.

His projection is that with Grove City's 2 percent income tax, 144 employees would bring $436,000 a year in additional revenue to the city.

Over 20 years, that in itself would be enough to pay the debt service of the bond for the Columbus Street project, Berry said. The amount of office space and employees could be even greater, he said.

Finance Director Mike Turner also noted the increased property valuation of 14 percent expected for the project area would by itself just about cover the cost of the debt service.

Christine Houk, who defeated Bennett for the Ward 3 seat in November and will take office in January, spoke in opposition to the ordinance at this time. Council needs to have more discussion before it votes; it's a matter of doing due diligence, Houk said.

"It's a large chunk of change and I believe just the tip of the iceberg" of other investments related to the Beulah Park project the city will be asked to make, she said.

Without having more information, council's approval at this time is like an individual signing a mortgage for a new house without knowing exactly what he or she would be buying and how much it would cost, Houk said.

afroman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekAfroman