Gov. Mike DeWine on Friday said the state plans to accommodate a proposal to transform parking lots around Mapfre Stadium into a practice facility for the Crew major league soccer club and a new Columbus city recreation facility.
"Look, we're going to accommodate that," DeWine told reporters after giving the opening remarks to a new task force that will study the best future land uses of the historic state fairgrounds.
DeWine said there are "some things to work out in regard to parking."Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our morning, afternoon and evening newsletters
"In the short run, decisions have to be made so that the Crew can move forward, the community can move forward," DeWine said. "The (Mapfre) plan that was proposed I think is a solid plan, just a question of how that gets accommodated with parking and other challenges. So that's something that's going to get worked out in the short run."
DeWine said the new panel "is really looking more at the long run."
"We'll certainly be open to their input as far as the short run, too, but what really I've asked them to do is look at the future of the fair" and other adjacent state facilities, like the Ohio History Connection, formerly called the Ohio Historical Society, DeWine said.
The plan to take state parking lots used by the Ohio State Fair, Quarter Horse Congress and Arnold Sports Festival and devote them to the Crew and the city is backed by the Columbus Partnership, a civic organization of top leaders in Columbus that has been instrumental in negotiations to keep the Crew here.
The Mapfre proposal would consume 23 acres of state land currently used for parking, transforming the property into new private practice fields for the Crew, public community sports fields and a new city indoor sports facility.
The plan would take away 1,750 parking spots used at fairgrounds events, but 1,550 of those could be replaced, including at a state armory on the other side of I-71 from the fairgrounds, an Ohio Department of Transportation study found.
Following brief opening statements from DeWine, the new task force boarded a charter bus and toured the vast Expo Center grounds, over a mile long and a half-mile wide, mostly consisting of huge parking lots.
The 20-member task force is represented by state officials and others who have annual events at the fairgrounds, including Virgil Strickler, general manager of the Ohio Expo Center, who said in March that he opposed the city's Mapfre plan.
Also on the task force are Dorothy Pelanda, director of the state Department of Agriculture; Col. Richard Fambro, superintendent of the State Highway Patrol, which has its training academy at the fairgrounds site; Burt Logan, executive director of the Ohio History Connection; and members representing the Arnold Sports Festival, Ohio Cattlemen's Association and the All American Quarter Horse Congress.
"I'm not really sure if the Crew is what's really pushing this thing forward," said Bob Lorimer, president of the Arnold. "I think they're looking for this longer-term project," and he supports any new development of display space or hotels in the area.
Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin also sits on the panel, along with former city council member and current state Sen. Hearcel Craig, architect Curt Moody and others.
The task force is co-chaired by Mike Curtin, a longtime Dispatch reporter, editor and executive who became a two-term state representative, and Lydia Mihalik, director of the Ohio Development Services Agency. The co-chairs will meet next week to go over subjects on which the task force will focus, but the entire panel won't reconvene until Sept. 20.
A public-private partnership announced in December plans for a new $230 million Downtown soccer stadium for Crew SC on a site west of Huntington Park and the Arena District that once was proposed for a casino. But like the Mapfre portion of the project, the centerpiece stadium still has no land to build on. The team and the landowner, Nationwide Realty Investors, a division of Nationwide, have been in negotiations for the last eight months.