Tax plan might reawaken Westland Mall

on Wednesday, 18 February 2015.

a joint economic-development district

A push is underway for a tax that could spur the long-awaited redevelopment of Westland Mall, a tax the owners of the struggling mall would welcome.

“We are excited about it; it sounds like an excellent funding source,” said Nick Vollman, a vice president for Plaza Properties, which owns much of the 70-acre, mostly vacant mall.

The tax plan — a joint economic-development district — is being promoted by Franklin Township to pay for public improvements that spur economic development.

Vollman said Plaza Properties would like to see a public street running from W. Broad Street through the mall to link with the entrance to Hollywood Casino across Georgesville Road. The mall has frontage on the two busy streets, but the increased traffic through its interior could attract more shoppers and businesses, he said.

The district’s focal point would be the Broad and Georgesville intersection. The township would need the support of 51 percent of business owners and 51 percent of property owners.

“We need to pick the low-hanging fruit,” township Trustee Tim Guyton said. That’s Westland Mall, Bob Evans and Sears, he said. Sears owns its property at the mall and a third party owns the Bob Evans site. Representatives for both companies declined to comment.

Townships aren’t allowed to collect an income tax. They can, however, work with a city that would collect its tax on workers in the township and pass the proceeds — minus an administrative fee — on to the township. Businesses would pay the same rate on their net profits.

“Columbus is our natural dance partner,” Guyton said. Although the township could work with any city, Columbus’ 2.5 percent income tax is the highest rate charged in the county.

“It’s early in the process. We just want to wait to see what’s proposed,” said Cynthia Rickman, spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Development.

The township had expected to receive an estimated $750,000 a year in exchange for Columbus annexing the casino, which opened in 2012. It received the first payment, $332,000, last March and three quarterly payments for a total of $432,000 last year, township fiscal officer Lisa Morris said.

Columbus also has promised not to annex township land suitable for economic development before Dec. 31, 2017. If a JEDD is imposed, the ban on annexation extends to 50 years, Guyton said.

With the clock ticking on the deal and no increase in casino-related revenue foreseen, “We need it to protect our tax base,” the trustee said.

Township trustees voted last week to hire Phil Honsey to collect information on businesses, their owners and their employees to help trustees define the district. Honsey, who has been a city administrator in Groveport, Galion and Grove City, will be paid $2,000 a month for six months and a $10,000 bonus if a JEDD is in place in that time.

Honsey said it is too early to discuss numbers. “We don’t want to conjecture anything yet,” he said.

Neighboring Prairie Township, working with Obetz and Columbus on separate development areas, earns about $3 million a year from businesses that include a Home Depot and OhioHealth Doctors Hospital.

Hearing that Westland Mall’s owner would be agreeable to a JEDD was good news for Franklin County’s economic-development and planning director.

“We’re interested in anything that moves that part of the West Side forward,” James Schimmer said. “If the private sector is willing to step up, we are really excited about that.”

West Side advocate and car-dealership owner Chris Haydocy said revitalization of Westland Mall is the next level in the area’s redevelopment.

Since the $400 million casino was built, the  surrounding area has attracted 25 new businesses, streets have been resurfaced and bike lanes added, and the  Romney Group is renovating more than 800 apartments at the former Metro West complex on Georgesville, Haydocy said.

“For people to truly recognize that the West Side is back, Westland Mall is the missing link,” he said.

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http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2015/02/17/West-Side-tax-deal-considered.html