Decision on Upper Arlington community center goes to voters May 4

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group
City of Upper Arlington

Upper Arlington voters this spring will decide if the city will borrow $54 million to build a community center at the Kingsdale Shopping Center.

Upper Arlington City Council voted unanimously Jan. 19 to place an “advisory question” on the May 4 ballot asking local voters to decide if a 95,300-square-foot community center should be part of a project to redevelop the former Macy’s property at Kingsdale.

A “yes” vote in the special election would authorize the city to move forward with plans to issue $55 million in bonds to fund the community center portion of the project.

A “no” vote would mean that a community center won’t be built when Continental Real Estate Cos. moves forward with plans to construct three buildings at Kingsdale that will include 458 apartments, 104 senior housing units, 6,000 square feet for restaurants and a two-story parking garage.

City officials said no income taxes or property taxes would be raised to fund construction of the community center.

City Manager Steve Schoeny said the $55 million bond would provide funding for any contingency expenses above the estimated construction construction costs. 

The bulk of the debt incurred from the project will be paid, Schoeny said, with about $1.6 million in annual revenues that will be generated for 30 years from tax-increment financing deals with Continental for the Macy’s redevelopment, as well as two previously established funds.

Through those arrangements, which also have been approved by Upper Arlington Schools, developers pay money that otherwise would go to the school district via property taxes. The city can use money from TIF funds for “public infrastructure improvements.”

The remainder of the debt would be paid by a combination of funding streams, according to the council-appointed, 16-member Community Center Feasibility Task Force, which Dec. 16 culminated 18 months of work by saying a community center could be built at Kingsdale without raising taxes.  

Other funding sources would include an 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 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 the task force said could be funded with a portion of its "rainy day" fund.

Another $264,512 could be raised annually, the task force estimated, by leasing office space on the sixth and seventh floors of the center. That money would be above what the task force estimated would be needed to service the construction debt.

“We believe that we can construct at the Kingsdale site a community center that will serve all of our residents and we can do that without raising municipal taxes,” Shoeny said.

The ongoing operation of the community center would be funded through membership fees, the task force and city officials have said.

Parks and Recreation Director Debbie McLaughlin said the city would meet its funding goals through memberships if “3% of the population within a 12-minute drive time” of the center join.

“So that’s broader than the Upper Arlington city limits,” she said.

In moving the community center question to the ballot, Councilwoman Michaela Burriss said she couldn’t “overstate the value of what a generational impact this has the potential to make and how important it is that we see high voter participation” in the special election.

Others emphasized the proposed community center project is part of a larger redevelopment of the Macy’s site, which they said has been an eyesore at Kingsdale and an issue residents have petitioned the city to address for years.

They the city is moving the matter before voters after it was endorsed by the CCFTF based on residents’ input, and after financial analysis showed the project can be done at Kingsdale without raising taxes.

“I just want to remind voters that what you are voting on does not in any way affect your taxes,” Councilwoman Michele Hoyle said. “It is an advisory – should we or shouldn’t we?

“I think it is something that will definitely provide this community something that we are lacking, which is a gathering place.”

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate