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Ask The Mayor: Columbus Mayor Lienhoop On Fair Oaks Mall, Drug Treatment Centers

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Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop (Joe Hren, WFIU/WTIU News)

The city is looking into purchasing Fair Oaks Mall and turning it into a sports tourism project, vacant land on State Street is being designated as a revitalization area and drug treatment centers are moving forward.

On this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop addresses these issues and more. Listen to the full conversation with Indiana Newsdesk anchor Joe Hren by clicking on the play button above, or read some of the questions and answers below. A portion of this segment airs 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. Wednesday on WFIU.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Hren: Over the weekend I read about the city's intention to purchase Fair Oaks Mall for close to $6 million to turn it into a recreational center and sports duplex. To be fair, the mall is declining and this is a way to improve your parks facilities while saving what could be an eyesore.

Lienhoop: Yes, we have no binding agreements, but a vision. It's close to an existing city park and gives us an opportunity to build on something we already have. We have a partner with Columbus Regional Health who has some use for a portion of the facility. 

It might include an indoor sports complex, but it would definitley include a transfer of activities from Donner Park. Donner Park is one of the city's larger parks, but it's surrounded by residential area.

One of the things that came forward from the master plan was a need for indoor facilities and programming. So to place something like that on one of our existing parks is a challenge. We talked how Donner Center is in need of a serious facelift. It is 75 years old. And to try and spend money on it today, makes you question whether you're throwing good money for bad.

For the tenants that are there, no changes should be made until 2020. 

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Vacant stores and parking space line Fair Oaks Mall in Columbus. (Joe Hren, WFIU/WTIU News)

HrenI wanted to follow up on the disbanding of some subcommittees of the city’s redevelopment commission. There’s some debate whether they are covered by the state’s open records law. Let’s start with why they were created to begin with and were they in violation?

Lienhoop: Sure, when we took office of January 2016, there were three projects we wanted the redevelopment commission to approach and we felt a reasonable way to organize that was to take commission members and ask them to participate in a committee of other folks to push those projects forward.

We were confident that did not constitute a quorum and we received an opinion from a local attorney that said these are not public entities. There were people in the community that took exception to that and filed a complaint with the public access counselor who said those are public activities. So instead of trying to argue, we just said sure. 

So we changed the notification process so everyone knew when these little groups got together for a year and a half. Now those projects are finished. So that's over, now we have new groups and we will try to avoid using the 'c' word - committee, going forward so there's less confusion. 

HrenI've read in the Columbus Republic where there are more drug prevention and treatment centers setting up operations. Does the city find itself in an interesting situation of having to vet or regulate these centers to operate?

Lienhoop: We formed two new organizations which are both public entities, one is an approval board and the other one is a funding board. The approval board takes a look at the program and makes an analysis on whether or not it is cost effective and efficient and produces results that we're after.

Then they make a recommendation to the funding board which determines whether or not the group should be funded. Then makes recommendations to the county council and city council with respect to going forward and how much.

HrenMany entities including Columbus are having trouble funding jails. I read where a few million more dollars are needed this year to just keep the Bartholomew jail open, what needs to happen now?

Lienhoop: The main thing is it needs to be staffed. But when you're talking about one position, you have to hire five people because a jail is 24/7. You have three 8 hour shifts and the weekends. So if you have five positions you're hiring 25. 

The second thing is have a population there that requires a lot of monitoring equipment. This stuff is not cheap. It goes to show the value of a drug court where you try to find in the courtroom setting, an alternative to incarceration. 

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Bartholomew County Jail (WFIU/WTIU News)

 

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