Pickerington, Violet Township, Fairfield County to fund sports complex feasibility study

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group
Pickerington Mayor Lee Gray

Pickerington, Violet Township and Fairfield County soon will launch a study to determine if they can partner to bring a sports complex and convention center to the region. 

Fairfield County Commissioners voted unanimously Feb. 23 to contribute $25,000 to a feasibility study that would evaluate if a sports complex and/or convention center can be built in the Pickerington-Violet Township area or somewhere south of those municipalities, including possibly the Carroll area. 

It was the first domino to fall in a multijurisdictional partnership that’s in the works to look into the project. 

On March 2, Pickerington City Council followed the county and voted 6-0 to approve its own ordinance to put $25,000 toward the study and the Violet Township trustees took similar action March 3. 

“It’s my hope to commence with the study within 60 to 90 days,” Pickerington City Manager Greg Butcher said. 

Pickerington City Manager Greg Butcher

The study would determine factors such as the possible size of a facility and where it should be located. It also would recommend what types of uses the facility would have, including specific sports it might serve. 

Butcher and Pickerington Mayor Lee Gray said the study would help officials decide if the project would include only a sports complex, whether it would include a convention center or if only a nonsports tourism facility such as a convention center should be built. 

According to Gray, the city would support moving forward with the project only if it could be built and operated without raising local taxes. 

“We don’t know if the study is going to say, ‘You can support ice, you can support swimming,’ ” he said. “The study should be an open study to truly evaluate what can work and make the numbers work so you’re not coming back and asking taxpayers to foot the bill. 

“People need to understand – we are not going to ask our taxpayers for money for this. That’s the city of Pickerington’s position. It’s supposed to be self-sustaining, and that’s why the study at the beginning is so important. If the study indicates that it can’t come close to there, for us, that’s the end of the conversation.” 

The project is not related to a bid by the Center Ice Foundation of Central Ohio to bring an indoor ice facility to the Pickerington, Violet Township or Canal Winchester area. 

That nonprofit group had sought to raise upward of $8 million to build an indoor ice facility since the beginning of 2019; in June that year, it struck a deal with Pickerington City Council through which the project could be built, pending fundraising, on undeveloped land the city owns at 1111 and 1113 Gray Drive. 

On Jan. 15, CIFCO Executive Vice President Bob McElheney said the group had changed plans and is working with the Phoenix-based company Community Center Partners LLC to bring a mixed-use project to the region that could include an indoor-outdoor sports complex, a hotel and bars and restaurants.  

He said those partners also are in the fact-finding stage and plan to conduct their own feasibility study. 

Butcher and Gray said the city started exploring the possibility of an inter-governmental agreement that could bring a sports complex, a convention center or both to the region last month after the city was unwilling to contribute $250,000 toward a feasibility study for the CIFCO project, as well as possible future expenses related to it.   

“In government, a regional approach requires appropriating money, inter-governmental agreements, execution of contract, full identification of scope,” Butcher said. “That is typically a multi-month process. 

“We’re excited or we wouldn’t be talking about it. However, we’re also measured in that we’re going to be disciplined and very detailed in advancing the study with the hope of identifying whether or not a sports-tourism and/or non-sports-tourism – i.e.: smaller convention center facility – makes sense.” 

Fairfield County Commissioner Jeff Fix, a former Pickerington City Council member, said he supports exploring a sports complex project because he saw the benefits those facilities bring to families and the tourism dollars they can generate while his son, Tanner, now 22, was growing up playing baseball on traveling teams. 

“We’ve been to some of those parks, and they’re pretty amazing places that draw thousands and thousands of people every weekend,” Fix said. “They generate a lot of revenue, not only for the complexes themselves but the businesses around them.” 

Like officials in Pickerington, Fix said, before the commissioners can make decisions, they need to learn more about the size and scope of a facility that could be self-sufficient. 

“There’s a lot to learn about it,” he said. “To invest $25,000 seems like a reasonable ask. It’s not going to be a government-funded thing or a taxpayer-funded thing. It’s going to be public-private.” 

The Pickerington City Council vote to approve its ordinance was 6-0 with President Tony Barletta abstaining. He said later he was “a little uncomfortable with the process,” but declined to comment further. 

The Violet Township trustee vote was 2-0, with trustee Melissa Wilde abstaining after she unsuccessfully requested that the matter be tabled until the March 17 meeting. Wilde said the resolution to provide township funding for the study wasn’t added to the March 3 agenda until roughly 90 minutes before the meeting. 

“I like projects like this,” Wilde said. “This is a community that raises great athletes. We should have really great facilities. I just want to know who is paying for this at the end? We don’t even know. We’re just going to do a feasibility study and then hope that somebody is going to pay for it (the project)?” 

Township Trustee Chair Darrin Monhollen said officials hope the feasibility study not only will provide answers about whether a sports complex can be built in the area but also will “entice a partner that would be interested in developing this type of complex.” He added the ultimate hope is that a project can be moved forward that “generates hundreds of millions of dollars to the area.” 

Monhollen and Trustee Terry Dunlap said the resolution stipulates no taxpayer money would be used for construction or operation of any project that might result from the study. 

“If you’re going to do something that ... possibly will be an asset to the community, you have to invest the money someplace,” Dunlap said. “Twenty-five thousand dollars is a share that’s not all that much. That would be more than recouped in any sales tax, property tax, income tax, JEDD (joint economic-development district) tax that might come out of that.” 

nellis@thisweeknews.com 

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