Columbus pledged $50 million toward a Downtown stadium for the Crew SC and renovation of Mapfre stadium for team practice and community use, but the city's total cost is really much higher — close to double, according records obtained by The Dispatch.
Since December, when Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther joined other officials to announce a proposed new Downtown soccer stadium and revamped practice facility at Mapfre Stadium for the Columbus Crew SC, the city has reported its public contribution at $50 million.
But the city's total cost is really much higher — close to double the $50 million, according to information included in hundreds of city emails, reports and spreadsheets obtained by The Dispatch through a request under the Ohio Public Records Act.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our morning, afternoon and evening newsletters
Starting early this year, as city department heads planned for the stadium, documents show they didn't have one budget, but two: costs included in the $50 million and those outside of it, spread across various departmental budgets and funding sources.
Jennifer Gallagher, the director of the Department of Public Service, appeared concerned in emails starting in February about the added costs.
"We do NOT want to commit to the overhead high-voltage electric lines being undergrounded at the city cost — this could be $5 to $10M — it is in addition to the cell-tower cost we discussed this morning," Gallagher emailed former city Development Director Steve Schoeny on Feb. 20.
In one spreadsheet circulated among city officials in March titled "Updated Project Budget and Timeline," City Auditor Megan Kilgore tallied up what at the time were the project costs — almost $98 million, split between two "buckets": "$50 million" and "Other Projects."
"This is our best effort at keeping track of projects," Kilgore said in the March email to which she attached the spreadsheet. "The above will dictate how we continue to push expenditures that EXCEED the above amounts into the 'Other Projects — outside of $50 million bucket' pot."
While Kilgore said last week she doesn't know how accurate her March spreadsheet still is today, most of the "Other Projects" listed in it now are formally city obligations under the draft development contract released in June between the city, the Crew and Franklin County.
The contract assigns city obligations of: a new riverside park and new pedestrian bridge across the Olentangy River at the stadium site, burying high-voltage AEP power lines at the stadium site, completing site environmental remediation, donating city land, making added street and traffic signal improvements near the site, and building a 600-plus-car parking garage next to the proposed stadium.
The documents also discuss the city being pressed to relocate a cellphone tower, alter storm sewers and reimburse Nationwide Realty Investors, which owns the land needed for the stadium, for changes to a preexisting tax-increment-finance district at that site, a special designation that allows property taxes to be diverted to project improvements.
Early on, many of the city's additional obligations were spelled out in a special contract section titled "Other Public Infrastructure Projects." But that entire section vanished "at the request of the Mayor’s office," Charles Campisano, an attorney for the city, wrote other city officials April 26.
But the projects outlined in the section didn't go away. Rather, they reappeared in the 127-page contract, scattered across a section dealing with the site plans, conveyances, title insurance and other technical issues.
There, one will find that the city must pay for site environmental remediation, building the parking garage and "Completion of Current Projects," including the pedestrian bridge, the power lines, the riverfront park and road and intersection improvements near the stadium on top of those it will build within the site.
The contract was changed to say "the city separately planned to construct and complete" the "current projects."
In emails to other city officials, including Kilgore and Schoeny, Gallagher raised concerns about the Crew pushing unanticipated environmental-remediation costs to the city.
"The language also says this will be OUTSIDE the $50 million," the city public service director wrote in March. "This was the first I have heard of this. Are we in agreement?
"They have ADDED projects to the Other Projects list," she said, including that the "city will pay for the undergrounding of the overhead high-voltage electric lines on the stadium site. We are evaluating this, but it could be up to $10M. IF we would do this — should definitely be out of the $50M."
The Crew lawyers also were demanding that the "city will relocate (a) cell tower on the site. This could be another $5M. We have never agreed to the cell tower or the transmission lines. They also mention the payback to Nationwide for (TIF) money they spent."
Ginther's spokeswoman, Robin Davis, said the cost of the other projects aren't included in the city's stadium total because they aren't related to that project.
"Development projects do not happen in a vacuum," Davis said. "Throughout the negotiations to keep the Crew in Columbus, many other projects, such as the pedestrian bridge and development of the NRI TIF, were also moving forward. The (contract) is meant to document these projects that could be complementary to the stadium."
Schoeny said most of the other projects had been planned for years, and the city would have publicly funded them regardless of what development happened at the stadium site, which is now vacant land west of the Huntington Park baseball stadium.
For example, Schoeny, who has since left the city to become city manager of Upper Arlington, said a proposed parking garage for more than 600 cars to be built 60 feet from the stadium has no relation to the stadium project.
The draft stadium development contract that Schoeny helped craft states, "The City shall, at its cost and expense and not as a Project Cost, cause the Parking Facility Project to be constructed." It must be completed before the stadium opens and "sufficient to service" the stadium project.
The garage alone, at $25 million, is equal to a 50% increase in the city's publicly stated costs.
"If your question is are we exceeding what we told the public we would do, I would say no," Schoeny said during an interview in mid-July. "We told the public we would invest $50 million into the project, but that would not include things that we would be doing to develop the area otherwise."
On top of not being related, the garage isn't even a "cost," Schoeny said.
"No, honestly, we look at it as a money-making venture, so I wouldn't call it a project cost," Schoeny said. "The parking garage is a money-maker for us. We look at that as something, and we've talked to the (city) auditor about this, something that we'll be able to finance through revenue bonds," repaid out of the money people will pay to park in it.
But asked whether the city would receive all of that parking revenue, Schoeny couldn't say. "Can I promise you 100% that won't change? No, because not everything is signed, sealed and delivered," Schoeny said.
Cities often cede to professional teams the rights to almost all revenue streams, including game-day parking fees. The Columbus Blue Jackets received the revenue from parking garages as part of its lease after the city purchased Nationwide Arena in 2012.
The fact that the contract hasn't yet been consummated with the parties' signatures means details can still change — even as the team has scheduled a stadium groundbreaking for Thursday.
That might shed light on why the land needed for the new stadium, owned by Nationwide Realty Investors, a division of Nationwide, has not yet been purchased for the stadium. NRI owns about 21 acres at the site, just west of Huntington Park baseball field, and its purchase is central to pages of contract provisions.
City land contribution
The rest of the land needed for the stadium development is owned by the city. Its 7.55 acres, part of the long-discussed "Confluence Village" site, is to be swapped for other land now owned by NRI in a "no cash" deal. The Crew will use the city land to develop a mixed-use residential-commercial development, and the city will use the land it receives for new city roads and sidewalks ringing the stadium site, a new public plaza in front of it, and for the land needed to build the unrelated parking garage.
One city document valued the city's parcel at $7 million, or more than $1 million an acre. The Franklin County auditor values other nearby parcels in the Arena District at between $1 million and $2 million an acre.
But the city loses land in the swap: It is giving the team 7.55 acres and getting back 4.8 acres, a loss of 2.75 acres potentially worth millions of dollars by virtue of being across the street from a future high-traffic stadium.
An early version of the development contract, from February, awarded the city a "land swap credit" equal to the dollar amount of the excess land granted the Crew in the land swap, while accounting for remediation costs to make the site construction-ready. That credit was to count toward the city's $50 million contribution.
But that, too, was removed.
"The city recognizes that we are providing more land in the swap than the Crew are providing back," said Quinten Harris, the city's deputy development director. About 1.2 acres of the city parcel are considered "undevelopable," but Harris could not say why. It might be related to power lines that cross the site.
A thorny issue with this project has been unattractive high-voltage power lines that drop down to a city substation near the site.
The city ultimately agreed to bury the power lines in the development contract, a project estimated in documents to cost up to $10 million.
But that, too, is not considered a stadium cost, Schoeny said. The city intends to assign the work to another NRI development project almost a half-mile away: the new Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. corporate office building at Neil Avenue and Vine Street.
"Development of the Chipotle site requires a relocation that solves the issues for the other sites," Schoeny said, adding that the project requires that the lines near the stadium be relocated and buried.
He couldn't provide details on how much that would cost, a map showing why the Chipotle project required a new underground power-line path from the stadium site, or how much of the cost is attributable to the stadium portion.
Fast and furious
Documents indicate that the city, at first, intended to keep its contribution for the new stadium and the Mapfre renovation project capped at $50 million, but a long list of things got handed to it along the way.
The pace of negotiations that city administrators found themselves thrust into, largely because of an eleventh-hour bid to save the Crew in Columbus, appears unprecedented for such a complex $280 million public-private project. The Crew would pay half and the public half, including $45 million from Franklin County, $20 million from the state and $25 million from a New Community Authority.
The schedule prepared by Thompson Hine, the law firm representing the Crew's new ownership group, Haslam Sports Group, called for many key decisions to be made within weeks of the announcement that a deal had been reached with Major League Soccer.
All stadium-related construction projects, cash flows and lease terms were to be submitted by Jan. 14. Final terms for using 20 acres of land owned by the Ohio State Fairgrounds at Mapfre were to be worked out by Jan. 21; a final development contract approved by the city council by Feb. 8; the New Community Authority, an entity to issue $25 million in public bonds and own the facilities, established by Feb. 25, with its first meeting the next day; all land purchases and swaps closed on by March; and, finally, design and construction agreements executed by by April.
None of that happened on schedule.
In early January, days before the first deadline, a group of city administrators convened a stadium meeting. Notes show the discussion centered on the need to convey to the Crew that the city would be strictly holding the line on its $50 million cap, "the maximum dollars the city will contribute to the project for purposes of the CC (Columbus Crew)."
That was consistent with the December city council ordinance authorizing Ginther to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Crew. It said the city would contribute $50 million for the Mapfre project, land acquisition and "the infrastructure needs of the project including the commercial and residential development ancillary to the stadium site."
Any additional funds above the $50 million would be at the city's discretion and only to advance city priorities, such as adding more basketball courts to the Mapfre public recreation facility that would further the city's "ability to serve Columbus," the notes say.
"CC owners need to understand maximum City funding is $50m," said the meeting notes, written by former Recreation Director Tony Collins and distributed to the five other city officials who attended the January meeting, including Schoeny and Greg Davies, a deputy chief of staff to Ginther.
"All other costs above and beyond will be responsibility of the CC partners," Collins wrote.
The notes indicate that the city was planning to refuse to fund several of the projects it ended up agreeing to pay for.
What would the city pay for? Notes say it intended to put $30 million toward the Mapfre project; $10 million for land needed for the stadium; and $10 million for city infrastructure, including roads, sidewalks and streetlights, around the new stadium.
Schoeny told The Dispatch that "there are sensitivities" to using city money for buying land or building the stadium, but he wouldn't elaborate.
Ted Tywang, vice president and general counsel for Crew owner Haslam Sports Group, at one point said in an email that the plan was for the team to purchase the Nationwide Realty Investors' land with team money and then have the city reimburse it through the New Community Authority a few months later for "political sensitivity reasons."
The final draft contract calls on the city to give $38 million to the NCA that the team as developer can spend on any project cost, except building the stadium. "Land is an eligible expense," Schoeny told the Dispatch.
Just weeks before the draft contract was released publicly in June, the Crew added yet another cost to the city. Phil Dangerfield, the vice president of operations for the Cleveland Browns and Crew, "is requesting that the city pay for the main storm trunk that is on the site of the stadium," Gallagher emailed three city officials, including one in Ginther's office.
"The developers are pushing on us to add this work to our scope," Gallagher wrote May 29.
A week later, the $1.5 million project was part of the city-infrastructure list included the draft development contract.