After winning vote, Upper Arlington community center expected to open in 2024

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group
This conceptual rendering shows what a portion of Upper Arlington's future community center could look like. The city is moving forward with plans for a $54.2 million community center at the Kingsdale Shopping Center after voters approved Issue 2 on May 4.

Backed by voter support of a May 4 ballot issue, the city of Upper Arlington will move forward with a $54.2 million community center officials hope to open within three years at the Kingsdale Shopping Center.

The question, "Should the city build a new community center?" posed by Issue 2 was answered with a resounding "yes."

According to unofficial results from the Franklin County Board of Elections, the count was 7,570 votes (79.89%) in favor of the issue and 1,906 (20.11%) against it.

This conceptual rendering shows what a portion of Upper Arlington's future community center could look like. The city is moving forward with plans for a $54.2 million community center at the Kingsdale Shopping Center after voters approved Issue 2 on May 4.

"We are very excited about the level of support and the turnout from our voters," City Manager Steve Schoeny said. "This was an emphatic statement that our residents want the city to deliver on this plan."

A 16-member task force appointed by City Council spent 18 months exploring the feasibility of the project, which residents and city officials have wrestled with for more than three decades.

Now the work to build a 95,300-square-foot community center at Kingsdale can start. Construction is expected to begin in 2022 with the facility opening in 2024. 

Schoeny said the city spent nearly two years working to understand if residents want an indoor, multi-generational recreation and gathering facility, as well as the types of amenities they want it to feature.

Through the process, a seven-story community center concept included an indoor swimming pool, fitness facilities, three gymnasiums, a walking/running track, senior-center programming space, a child daycare component and a multipurpose event space.

Schoeny said the city will hire an "owner's representative" later this month to advise city officials throughout the planning and construction. 

"We will then hire a design team this summer to design the building, and we anticipate selecting a construction firm later this year," he said. "Right now, we are estimating (opening in) late 2024, but we will have a firmer timeline once we get through the design process and select a builder."

City officials were unsuccessful in previous attempts to build a community center:

• In 1990, council bowed to public opposition and pulled a proposal to pursue a $12 million community center out of a 15-year plan to bring $124 million in overall improvements to Upper Arlington.

• In November 2002, more than 62% of voters rejected a 1.5-mill levy that would have paid to build and operate a community center.

• In August 2007, council repealed an approved ordinance to purchase the Christian Apostolic Church, 4065 Kenny Road, for $1.85 million, with plans to convert it into a recreation facility.

A joint letter posted to the city's website May 4 by Schoeny and council President Brendan King said Upper Arlington residents made their feelings about a community center clear through the vote.

Schoeny and King pledged the project will yield "an efficient building that balances all of the uses that our residents desire."

"We will make sure that the exterior of the building looks great, but our real focus will be getting the functions of the building right," the post stated. "Over the next year, we will be back out in the community to explore the options and get your input."

The community center is being rolled into a project by Continental Real Estate Cos. to redevelop the 6.23-acre former Macy's site at Kingsdale.

In addition to a seven-story building to house the community center and two floors of professional office space that the city would lease to private tenants, Continental plans to build two seven-story buildings.

The buildings will contain 325 one- and two-bedroom apartments, eight townhouses, 142 assisted-living units and 6,000 square feet of ground-floor restaurant space.

Project financing

City officials have promised that no income taxes or property taxes will be raised to fund construction of the community center. Schoeny has said the city will issue $55 million in bonds to finance construction.

He said the bulk of the debt incurred by the project will be paid with about $1.6 million in annual revenues that 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."

Other funding sources, Schoeny has said, will include an estimated $500,000 in annual 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 at about $8.8 million, which the task force said could be funded with a portion of Upper Arlington’s "rainy day" fund.

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

Officials have said that ongoing operating costs for the community center will be financed through membership fees.

nellis@thisweeknews.com

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