With the submission of more than 130 signatures to the Bartholomew County Clerk early this week, Columbus citizen Mike Lovelace’s movement to stop the rebuilding of the Commons officially became the business of local government.
Factions on both sides of the issue are emerging in the anticipation of a signature contest that will eventually determine the shape of Columbus’ downtown.
Of the 130 signatures Lovelace turned in, 100 have to pass a certain threshold. Citizens behind the ink must be registered voters or property owners.
“I looked over most of [the signatures] and I know the majority of the people that signed it and I know where they live, so I think it’ll pass the test,” Lovelace said.
Bartholomew County Clerk Annie Hines said she does not anticipate her office will need the full 15 days allowed to verify all who signed Lovelace’s petition.
If the clerk’s office finds 100 voters among them, the process will bypass the county auditor, and a 30-day cooling off period will begin. At its conclusion, a signature-collecting contest will take place.
Columbus citizens on both sides of the issue have already begun digging in their heels in preparation for a battle.
Lovelace said he has started looking for storefront space to rent for his effort. He said his group does not have a vendetta against the Commons, [group members] are just upset the $9 million the city has pledged to pay for the project will come out of the pockets of Columbus citizens.
“Since it’s located in the city of Columbus, only the city will be paying for it. And people that live in the county can walk into the facility and use it for nothing. And the city people are paying for it,” he said. “Let those people pay for it like I have to pay for the Hoosier Dome when I go to Indianapolis or one of the [surrounding counties of Indianapolis] when I eat.”
Pro-Commons businessman Dave Barker said citizens owning homes with an average cost of $125,000 will pay an additional $17 per year for the project. However, Lovelace said that is pro-Commons propaganda. He said that estimate has not been scrutinized, and added the city has not shown how it will pay the building’s annual costs.
Columbus City Council President Martha Myers said room for the building will be added to [the city's] budget, despite revenue shortfalls in the millions of dollars projected over the next few years.
Dave Barker said he will help lead the effort to collect signatures for his side, insisting the Commons will spur economic development and bring jobs to the downtown area, a point he feels will galvanize support for his side.
“This remonstrance is essentially an attempt to say, ‘No, we don’t want that space anymore. We can’t afford it.’ My reaction would be: we can’t afford not to have it,” Barker said.
Lovelace said if his forces win the 30-day signature-collecting contest, the city will have to wait a year to try to restructure how the Commons will be paid for before trying to move forward with the project.