Task force: No tax increase needed to build $54.2M Upper Arlington community center

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group

A city-appointed task force says a 95,300-square-foot community center at an estimated constructed cost of $54.2 million is feasible without raising taxes. 

Barring a departure from the recommendation to build, Upper Arlington City Council is expected to move in January to ask voters on the May 4 ballot if they support a community center project on the 6.23-acre former Macy’s site at Kingsdale Shopping Center. 

“There will be a series of pieces of legislation that move us toward putting something on the ballot in May and authorizing us to issue the debt in order to move the project forward,” City Manager Steve Schoeny said. 

Upper Arlington Community Center Feasibility Task Force

In the meantime, Schoeny said, city officials will begin processes that would enable them to contract with architects and construction professionals “very soon after” the election, should voters approve the project. 

“We are not going to enter into those contracts for design and construction prior to the voters giving their approval,” he said.     

The 16-member Upper Arlington Community Center Feasibility Task Force, consisting of residents appointed by City Council, culminated 18 months of work Dec. 16 with recommendations to council. 

In concluding that a seven-story community center can be built, the task force said it should be incorporated into Continental Real Estate Cos.’ proposal to redevelop the Macy’s property at Kingsdale Shopping Center. 

Continental CEO Frank Kass has committed to leaving a placeholder for a community center to be part of the project that preliminary proposals show would yield three buildings at heights of five, seven and nine stories. 

In addition to the community center, the project calls for 400 apartments and 124 to 139 senior-housing units among the three buildings, as well as a ground-floor restaurant, 50,000 square feet of office space and a two-story parking garage. 

Because City Council has pledged to enter into a tax-increment financing agreement for the project, it’s expected Continental would pay up to $17.25 million to a TIF fund rather than in property taxes to Upper Arlington Schools over 30 years. 

Money from that fund would be used to build the parking garage for the development and for other public infrastructure improvements for the site. 

According to the task force recommendations, the city could pay off a $40 million bond to build a community center with about $1.6 million that would be generated annually from the TIF from the Macy’s redevelopment, as well as two previously established TIF funds. 

Additionally, Matt Rule, chairman of the task force’s finance subcommittee, said remaining debt could be serviced through the estimated $500,000 in annual hotel-motel bed taxes guests pay to stay at two hotels in Upper Arlington, along with $5.42 million that could be raised privately through naming rights and other donations and an estimated $450,000 in yearly income taxes expected to be generated from the redeveloped site. 

That would leave the city’s cash contribution about $8.8 million, which Rule said could be funded with a portion of its “rainy-day” fund.  

That fund consists of money the city holds in reserve that is not allocated for operating or other expenses unless approved by council.   

“City council has made it very clear that they would like to continue to hold on to year-over-year reserve funding in excess of 30% of their operating expenses,” Rule said. “This $8.8 million that you see dropped in here would allow the city to stay the course maintaining a 30% reserve. 

“We would use excess funds that are currently available in that account to fund the last $8.8 million of the capital stack (for construction).”  

Rule said the city likely could garner another $264,512 annually by leasing office space on the sixth and seventh floors of the community center. That money would be above what the task force estimated would be needed to service the construction debt. 

In recommending the project be done at Kingsdale, the task force estimated it would cost $28 million less than a plan they rejected to build a community center as part of redeveloping the Municipal Services Center at 3600 Tremont Road. 

Annual operating costs for the community center are estimated at $3 million, according Schoeny. The task force recommended those costs could be covered by annual memberships. 

It suggested “basic” memberships for Upper Arlington residents – for access during regular recreation times and priority registration for most programs and classes – would range from $192 annually for individual senior citizens to $259 for non-seniors. Couples would pay $442 a year and families of four would pay $672, with a $10 fee for additional children. 

The task force suggested “premier” memberships would provide members-only access during extended hours, 10 free guest passes annually, a free child-watch package for children ages 2 to 12 and the use of group-fitness classes. Those annual fees would be $249.60 for an individual senior, $336.70 for non-seniors, $574.60 for couples, $873.60 for a family of four with a $13 charge for each additional child. 

Senior citizens living in Upper Arlington would be able to purchase a “senior healthy lifestyle” membership for $98 a year that would give them access to the center during off-peak hours or a “senior social” membership for $48 annually that would give them access to the facility’s lounge area for social activities. 

Rule said 2% of each membership fee would go to a scholarship fund for those who can’t afford annual memberships. Council would set the criteria for scholarship eligibility. 

Programs and the layout of the center has not been determined. 

However, based on public input the task force collected, conceptual plans call for a swimming facility, three full-size basketball courts, an “adventure play” area, fitness facilities with weights and other exercise equipment, a running track, a child-watch and indoor play area and locker rooms and restrooms. 

Additionally, the center would have administrative offices and potentially professional offices on its sixth and seventh floors. 

The fifth floor, conceptually, would have a 250-seat multiuse room and a variety of spaces for seniors, including a lounge, billiards room, demonstration kitchen for cooking programs and an outdoor patio. 

If a community center is built, the city would demolish the Upper Arlington Senior Center at 1945 Ridgeview Road and transfer the land to Upper Arlington Schools as part of the TIF agreement the district approved for the Macy’s site redevelopment. 

As part of that deal, the city will pay the district $50,000 annually through Dec. 31, 2037, after a certificate of occupancy is issued for the senior-living portion of the proposed development. 

nellis@thisweeknews.com 

@ThisWeekNate