Woodland Meadows is a puzzle which needs to be solved. I have tried for most of 2006 to find a solution, I have met with a myriad of potential partners, received guidance and input from City of Columbus and City of Bexlay officials and community leaders, and formulated financing strategies. Nevertheless, the City of Columbus seems to insist that I am a bad guy and that I cannot be an ingredient to any solution. Trouble is that I own the place, so somehow I do need to play a role here. If the City thinks that they will go to Court and somehow declare Woodland Meadows a public nuisance in order to generate a lien and then foreclose on the property, then that is a poor strategy. First of all, the property is not a nuisance. It may be ugly in its present state, but it is not a nuisance. In order to get a judge to declare Woodland Meadows a nuisance, there will need to be ample evidence of the supposed nuisance. I keep hearing of all the police calls and fire calls to the complex, but the sad reality is that these emergency calls have plummeted since the last tenant moved out. In the last few months, I have demonstrated considerable efforts to address the City’s concerns: all the first floors have been boarded, and are reboarded regularly as people break in. I have cut the grass and removed the trash, although dumping on the site is a recurring problem. The second and third floors, as well as the holes in the roof which are a result of Fire Department training exercises – I allowed all the Central Ohio Fire and Police Departments to use Woodland Meadows as a training site this summer, as a public service – are all under appeal and will be decided in court sometime in 2007. Anyway, all the posturing by the Mayor and his team will simply end with us all back in court, with both sides expending precious resources on a fight in which no one will win, and will stray the focus from where it should be: redevelopment of the site. This is a HUGE piece of land, and can really be rebuilt into an asset for Columbus’ Eastside.
Eddie George’s EDGE Group completed several versions of potential land use plans for the site, and these were shared with the City. As a result of a series of what our team thought were productive meetings with the City, Ohio Housing Finance Agency, and community leaders, we crafted a mixed-use redevelopment plan with partners and participants including Rockford Homes, Methodist Eldercare, Atlantic Coast Development, Kimco Development and Gorsuch Management. This was a dynamite plan, and when we presented in early summer to City of Columbus’ Development Director Mark Barbash, he appeared enthusiastic. If this plan had received the blessing of the City, then the existing 122 buildings would already have been demolished. We indicated at the time that we could have the funds ready to pay for the demolition within a week, provided a plan was agreed to by the City. Be aware that at that point, none of my investors were willing to put another dime into Woodland Meadows until the City was on board, as these investors had all felt burned by the City’s past actions in which we spent millions to restore the property after the ice storm, only to have the City turn on us and try to shut us down. After we went to court and got that Temporary Restraining Order, the City sat down with HUD and directed them to pull our HUD contract. I remember getting a call from Lynn Zapp at HUD, who indicated that the City told her that they wanted HUD to pull the contract and convert to vouchers, but that she had indicated that this was not that something that could be done, that we had not done anything wrong. To wit, we had a greatly improved REAC HUD inspection score in November 2004, prior to the storm. Even after the storm, HUD performed a routine inspection in June 2005 and found the physical condition satisfactory.
Anyway, the City said something to Lynn at that meeting the first Monday of December, because we had always had a friendly relationship before then, and all of a sudden she was on board with the City to bust our contract, and refused to meet with us and was generally not very nice to us thereafter. I am unsure what slanderous lie the City spread – there have been quite a few this year, and I would like to share them here, but my attorneys want to wait and make these part of the court case. Anyway, our relationship with HUD was never the same from there and the City got what they wanted: a vacant Woodland Meadows.
Funny thing is people tend to believe what comes out of the mouths of high-ranking City officials. However, when the few people who still watch out for me have pushed for the genesis of this slander, thay are simply told that “we heard this somewhere”. I know that there are some City staffers who are appalled at the conspiracy which has transpired here. I am sure the Mayor is thinking, better to make Jorge Newbery Public Enemy #1 rather than having his administration take the heat for Woodland Meadows.
I have generated interest from many partners and potential buyers in the redevelopment, but they seem to get as far as the City and then the interest wanes. I am told that they are “discomforted” and “discouraged” by the City.
It’s 3:28AM, and I just came up with the idea for the blog an hour or so – it seems like a healthy outlet for all my ideas to redevelop this site. So, I have done my rambling for the evening, and will try to post daily(nightly) – the problem with me keeping thoughts in my brain is that I tend to agree with myself. I always seem to have a rush of thoughts, especially on the sore subject of WOodland Meadows. My thinking is that if I can post them all on line, then maybe others can comment, correct, guide, give input, disagree or agree, create, envision.
There is a solution to Woodland Meadows – maybe some students at OSU would have the freshest perspective. I know that a professor there had a student project in 2005 which was to redevelop Woodland Meadows – I guess that should have been an omen.
To trigger some thoughts: I met with Bexley City officials and community leaders last week and they really want a park here. This sounds like an easy to support reuse, but they do not have the money to buy or build the park. There needs to be a component which generates revenue, but also incorporates some aspects of the athletic fields and park they(and probably Columbus) need. The VA Hospital is being built right across the street, so a medical office building on the corner of James and Allegheny seems appropriate. Furthermore, a hotel could support the guest nights generated by the VA, as well as business generated by the airport. Other ideas have been the new training facility for the Crew(although apparently our site is too small). Also, there must be other services/needs generated by the new VA Hospital – any ideas?
Some affordable housing could be a component, although I think all the Eastside market needs is more 3- and 4-bedrooms: there are plenty of 1- and 2-bedroom vacancies in this submarket. We also still have millions of dollars in Low Income Housing Tax Credits which could possibly be preserved/transferred/tolled as part of a global resolution.
For sale housing is tough right now throughout the country, and I do not believe that we could interest a builder in this until the market improves, which will probably be a few years.
Anyway, these are some ingredients to start your minds wandering – please post other ideas and let’s try to solve this for everybody’s good.