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OWU’s Duffy wins NCAC heptathlon title

April 30, 2012

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Delaware County officials have said construction of a new Interstate 71 interchange at U.S. 36/Ohio 37 could lead to development comparable in scale to that of Polaris.

Now they have a study from an economist that helps back that up.

A new interchange could lead to just under $1 billion in business activity (temporary and permanent jobs, retail sales, hotel room fees, etc.) between 2015 and 2030, according to projections by Chicago-based consultant Cheryl Baxter.

Commissioners voted last November to pay Baxter $40,000 to create the study, meant to give developers and government officials an idea of what the interchange could mean, as well as to give the county buy-in to the project.

Baxter envisions a million square feet each of office, retail and industrial space popping up by 2030, resulting in more than 6,000 new jobs, as well as 800 new homes. With the OK from Delaware County commissioners, developers could use some of the more than $530 million in new tax revenues resulting from the development over the next 25 years to pay for infrastructure and roads associated with the project, Baxter said.

In a flat Ohio economy, Delaware County continues to grow, Baxter said. But the current interchange, which was last improved in the 1960s, is not built to handle the demand for economic and residential growth that Delaware County could see.

“Delaware County is interesting in that it’s one of fastest-growing counties in the country,” she said told Delaware County commissioners in an hour-long presentation Monday. “The interchange is an opportunity.”

The study does not address what stresses the growth would put on local government services such as schools, sewers and police protection. However, all three county commissioners said they support the development, granted it has the appropriate amount of planning.

“I think what you’ll hear from us is that growth is coming to Delaware County whether we like it or not,” commissioner Tommy Thompson said. “We can either channel it and help get it the way we want it. Or it’s just going to grow around us.”

A number of area officials packed the commissioners meeting room Monday to see what Baxter had to say. That included Ferzan M. Ahmed, the deputy director of the ODOT’s district 6, which includes Delaware County.

ODOT is committed to building the interchange soon, Ahmed said.

The quasi-independent Transportation Review Advisory Committee that oversees funding for state road projects slotted Delaware County for $5 million to pay for an environmental study that will help determine where the interchange will go.

But said TRAC is already over-committed by $2 billion statewide. So rather than waiting for TRAC, Ahmed said ODOT has invested its own money into the study, which it hopes will be complete by October.

“The timing is right for this project,” Ahmed said.

The state will also solicit money from developers who control real estate in the vicinity of the proposed interchange as part of a “public private partnership” that will help fast-track the project, Ahmed said.

The interchange, which could include an accompanying “Sunbury Parkway” extending from I-71 to Sunbury, is tentatively projected to cost around $114 million. Construction could begin as soon as late 2012, and be complete in as soon as three years, once the project is green-lit and funded.

Two development groups — one to the north of the existing interchange and one to the south — are lobbying ODOT to build the interchange through their land. The difference will likely make the “winning” developer millions.

Bill LaFayette, an economist with the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, also attended Monday’s presentation. He said he was initially skeptical about the impact the interchange would have, but he walked away impressed. He called Baxter’s calculations “realistic.”

Baxter incorporated projections from the Mid Ohio Regional Planning Commission that sees the county’s population ballooning from its current 170,000 people now to more than 260,000 people in 2030.

That growth would support new job creation and retail opportunities, as opposed to just shuffling the deck and taking jobs and shoppers away from Columbus, LaFayette said.

“I think the potential for this kind of development really does exist because the Columbus metropolitan area has been growing to the north for more than a century,” he said.

Some officials expressed concerns. Berlin Township Trustee Phil Panzarella and Delaware County Commissioner Ken O’Brien asked if the county’s sewer plan was up to snuff to handle the development. Kingston Township Trustee Dewey Acres noted Baxter’s projections don’t take into consideration any tax incentives Delaware County may extend to try to lure businesses to the area.

Delaware County Commissioner Dennis Stapleton said if the development is anywhere near as successful as that at Polaris or the Tuttle Crossing Mall in Dublin, the county won’t need to offer that many tax incentives.

“I don’t know if anybody knows what’s going to be there. Look at Polaris — I don’t think anybody knew what was going to happen there before it happened,” Stapleton said. “But that doesn’t mean that we’re going to put up barbed wire around our townships. Because the development is coming.”