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What Does the Governor’s New Task Force Mean for the Future of Mapfre Stadium and the Fairgrounds?

Brent Warren Brent Warren What Does the Governor’s New Task Force Mean for the Future of Mapfre Stadium and the Fairgrounds?Mapfre Stadium, photo by Brent Warren.
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Governor Mike DeWine has formed a new task force that will take a big-picture look at the future of the Ohio State fairgrounds and the state-owned land immediately surrounding it.

“Today, I am announcing the formation of a task force, called ‘Expo 2050,’ to take stock of all of the great things going on at the Ohio Expo Center, as well as the Ohio History Connection and Mapfre Stadium, and to develop a strategic vision for the entire area,” the governor said in a statement released last week.

The announcement comes about seven months after the City of Columbus – along with Franklin County and the Columbus Partnership – unveiled a plan to build soccer fields and an indoor recreation facility on the land immediately surrounding Mapfre Stadium.

Although earlier this month the Columbus City Council approved $50 million in funding to go toward the project (and toward infrastructure improvements at the site of a proposed Downtown soccer stadium and mixed-use development), the plan for Mapfre is not currently supported by the entity that actually owns the land that would be redeveloped.

The State of Ohio controls over 350 acres of land in the area, including the Ohio State fairgrounds, the stadium site and all of the parking lots in between. Also included in that total is the Ohio State Highway Patrol Training Academy, the Ohio History Connection and Ohio Village.

Virgil Strickler, General Manager of the Ohio Expo Center, and Andrew Doehrel, Chair of the Ohio Expositions Commission – which controls the property – have expressed concern about the proposal.

According to minutes from the group’s March meeting, both Strickler and Doehrel met with “representatives from the Columbus Crew Partnership” and informed them that “the State of Ohio owns the land, not the City of Columbus, where the new development is proposed.”

The minutes from the meeting also state that members of the board discussed the proposal and raised concerns that “the area they are proposing to develop is used for parking during several large non-fair events and the fair. “

Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin, who will sit on the new task force, told CU that he recognizes there is still a lot of work to be done before any plan is finalized.

“We’ve said from the beginning that Mapfre’s redevelopment would take years of planning with community input,” he said. “We are pleased that Governor DeWine’s task force is bringing stakeholders together to help create a vision for the Expo Center’s future and to create opportunities for economic development in the surrounding Linden neighborhood.”

“This is more than just a stadium, it is a major statewide hospitality asset for locals, fairgoers, visitors and groups like the Arnold and Quarter Horse Congress who help host many thousands of guests all year round,” Hardin added, although he stressed that “the city is committed to our concept of a major sports facility as part of this critical collaboration and planning.”

A map prepared by Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and presented to the Ohio Expositions Commission in June lays out several areas where parking could be added if the lots around Mapfre Stadium are redeveloped.

Courtesy of ODOT.

The map shows that 550 parking spots could be placed on state-owned land on the other side of I-71, as well as 880 new spots on what is now a grass lawn between the Ohio History Connection parking lot and 17th Avenue. Together with a new 120-space lot along the railroad tracks, the ODOT map shows a total of 1,550 new spots, nearly making up for the estimated 1,750 parking spaces that would be lost under the redevelopment plan.

The announcement of the Governor’s task force included a list of members, but not much information about how it will function or what steps it will take to develop the “long-term vision” that is called for.

Dan Tierney, Press Secretary for Governor DeWine’s office, said that the Expo 2050 group will eventually release a report with recommendations, although no date has been set for the first meeting and no timeline established for the completion or release of the report.

The task force will be co-chaired by Mike Curtin, former state representative and editor of the Columbus Dispatch, and by Lydia Mihalik, director of the Ohio Development Services Agency.

The other members include:

  • Alissa Belna-Muhlenkamp, Junior Fair Board Coordinator, Ohio State Fair
  • Hearcel F. Craig, State Senator, Ohio’s 15th Senate District
  • Andy Doehrel, Chairman, Ohio Expositions Commission
  • Sandy Doyle-Ahern, President, EMH&T
  • Col. Richard Fambro, Superintendent, Ohio State Highway Patrol
  • Shannon Hardin, President, Columbus City Council
  • Elizabeth Harsh, Executive Director, Ohio Cattlemen’s Association
  • Burt Logan, Executive Director & CEO, Ohio History Connection
  • Robert Lorimer, President, The Arnold Sports Festival
  • Mary Mertz, Director, Ohio Department of Natural Resources
  • Curt Moody, CEO, Moody Nolan
  • Keith Myers, Vice President of Planning, Architecture, and Real Estate, Ohio State University
  • Dr. Scott Myers, CEO, All American Quarter Horse Congress
  • Dorothy Pelanda, Director, Ohio Department of Agriculture
  • Bob Peterson, State Senator, Ohio’s 17th Senate District
  • John Rogers, State Representative, Ohio’s 60th House District
  • Virgil Strickler, General Manager, Ohio Exposition Center & State Fair
  • Paul Zeltwanger, State Representative, Ohio’s 54th House District
A site plan shows the proposed redevelopment as unveiled in December, courtesy of the City of Columbus.
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