A group of Columbus citizens is trying to collect one hundred signatures by February 23 in order to force a remonstrance on the city’s $18 million restoration of its downtown Commons building.
With the verification of 100 signatures, the anti-Commons group will effectively stop all work on the project. If a remonstrance is forced, a contest will ensue between both sides of the issue to see which side can collect the most signatures. either in for or against the project.
Though the linchpin of his downtown revitalization plan faces a serious threat, Columbus Mayor Fred Armstrong does not put much stock in the effort.
“At the end of the day, the only thing this will do is cost more money,” he said.
Armstrong said the city is trying to push the project forward to take advantage of low steel prices and low interest rates.
Columbus citizen Mike Lovelace, who identifies himself as “a concerned taxpayer,” began the petition to force the remonstrance. Lovelace said he has already collected between 60 and 70 signatures and expects to collect 100 by the February 23 deadline. However, he’s also encountering obstacles.
“I find a lot of them are [in favor of the petition], but they won’t sign the petition because they fear for their jobs. A lot of them work for the city and for Cummins, and they fear their names on the petition,” Lovelace said. “That’s why it’s best to have a referendum instead of a petition because nobody knows how you voted.”
He said he does not take issue with the Commons project itself, but how it is going to be funded. Businesses within the city’s Tax Increment Financing District should pay for the project because Lovelace said it is those firms which will reap benefits from its construction. He also said Bartholomew County should chip in, because the facility will be used both by city and county taxpayers.
Lovelace also said the city simply cannot afford the project, considering multi-million dollar shortfalls in revenue stemming from new property tax laws.
The mayor disagrees.
“If I thought we couldn’t afford it, we wouldn’t be doing it,” Armstrong said.
The city council approved a $9 million bond in January and multiple other donors are also on board. Armstrong said those seeking to stop the project don’t understand his administration’s plans to reshape downtown, of which the Commons project is a large part.
“The easiest thing for us to do is to do nothing. That would really benefit the community,” Armstrong said, sarcastically. “Just don’t do anything, Mayor. Just let that be a mud pit for awhile. Don’t worry about any economic development for awhile. Just don’t do anything and it will be okay. That’s just not the way we do business.”
Lovelace said the city also has not presented a plan for how it will pay the more than $200,000 in annual maintenance and operating costs for the new Commons. The city never handled those costs for the old Commons, as they were always covered by a private foundation.