Columbus City Council has waived its procedural rules for the sale of public real estate and voted June 15 to sell a historic Civil War-era schoolhouse in the heart of German Village to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus for below its appraised value.
With an emphasis on scrutinizing the budget of the Columbus Division of Police in the wake of widespread criticism of officers' response to recent protests and riots, council also voted June 15 to indefinitely table the purchase of a $123,800 "moving map system" for Columbus police helicopters -- even though it was paid for through a federal Department of Justice grant.
The 9,500-square-foot German Village schoolhouse, 630 S. Third St., is home to the Golden Hobby Shop, a senior citizens' craft center and gift shop that sells items made there.
The Columbus Department of Recreation and Parks owns the building and has provided maintenance, utilities and part-time staff to help operate it for the past four decades.
The city agreed to sell the brick structure and a little more than a half-acre for a little less than $1.23 million, which is lower than the Franklin County Auditor's Office market appraisal of $1.55 million.
The former schoolhouse will be used by St. Mary School, a Catholic school at 700 S. Third St. in German Village.
"The sale will move forward with a deed restriction on the property for educational use only in perpetuity," said Sophia Fifner, a recreation and parks department spokeswoman.
"Programming at the Golden Hobby Shop is temporarily paused (because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic) and will resume at an alternate location as soon as the department receives guidance from Columbus Public Health," Fifner said.
The transfer is set to close July 1, with proceeds used toward a temporary site for the Golden Hobby Shop and, ultimately the design and construction of a new, permanent Senior Creative Campus at a location to be determined.
Council waived code requirements for selling public real estate, which include a prior recommendation from a land-review commission, the city declaring the property surplus or designating it for development and advertising it for sale for at least two weeks.
The ordinance adopted by council says those steps were removed for "the preservation of the public health, peace, property and safety." No explanation of what that means was provided.
Also June 15, council put the brakes on the police helicopter mapping upgrade, signaling Division of Police purchases -- even those paid for by outside grants -- wouldn't be handled as business as usual.
City leaders have been unanimous in criticizing how police responded to protesters and rioting that swept through downtown Columbus and the University District in reaction to the May 25 death of George Floyd, an African American man who died during an arrest by Minneapolis police.
AeroComputers, the firm that sells the equipment, describes the hardware as a "tactical mapping system" that it markets to military and law-enforcement customers "engaged in surveillance, reconnaissance, drug interdiction and vehicle tracking operations."
The system integrates street names and other information over a live image of the city from the helicopter, according to a marketing video by the company.
In other business, council:
* Approved paying $500,000 from the general fund to the Greater Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau to "market Columbus for sporting events, conferences and convention planning activities."
* Accepted a $1 million state grant to build a "grand atrium" on the current parking lot of the North Market near the Greater Columbus Convention Center, part of a 26-story mixed-use tower that will include a hotel, condominiums and retail space.
A 50% match would be required of the North Market Development Authority, the nonprofit organization that runs the market.