Leaders worried about mall’s share of I-71 project

By Lenny C. Lepola - For The Gazette

Sunbury-area leaders are concerned about whether owners of the new Columbus Outlets mall is still contributing $16.5 million to improve the Interstate 71 interchange at U.S. 36 and State Route 37.

On June 30 the Ohio Department of Transportation submitted a Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC) application requesting Tier I status and construction funding for Interstate 71/routes 36-37 interchange modifications that would create a southern interchange near the closed ODOT weigh station on I-71.

According to the application, Columbus Outlets LLC’s traffic-impact obligation is for $16.5 million for that project at the discretion of ODOT, based on traffic needs.

The Gazette placed a call to Tanger Outlets Friday afternoon and spoke to a representative, but did not receive a response.

Last week, some concern was expressed about whether Columbus Outlets LLC was either willing or able to provide that funding, even though ODOT documents suggest the New Community Authority negotiated between the city of Delaware and Berkshire Township with the Simon-Tanger outlet mall developer has a 60-day trigger to provide the money for future design needs.

Phil Craig of the Craig Group, spokesman for Northgate Partners, the Pat Shively-driven effort to develop Northgate Commerce Center around the southern interchange, said there was a disagreement about the way the $16.5 million would be used for I-71/36-37 interchange improvements.

“If that $16.5 million is not available, that will leave the Northgate end of the project’s funding $16.5 million short for the southern interchange,” Craig said. “Our understanding is that any northern interchange is off the table completely. Obviously, the southern interchange is critical to the entire eastern Delaware County area.”

Craig said diverting the $16.5 million would not stop the southern interchange nor change the plans of Northgate Partners to develop Northgate Commerce Center, but it would be a cause for delay.

During the July 6 Sunbury Village Council meeting, Sunbury Mayor Tommy Hatfield recommended that council members contribute to the interchange modifications by offering $100,000 to the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission as a grant match. In an 80/20 grant, the village’s $100,000 would contribute $500,000 to the project.

“We’re excited about supporting that southern interchange, and we would like to work with Northgate and the Ohio Department of Transportation to leverage additional funding,” Hatfield said. “The Ohio Department of Transportation sponsored the TRAC application with Northgate funding included. That funding is for plan development costs, engineering costs, right-of-way costs, plus construction costs. I would like to go to MORPC to negotiate how and where we as a village can participate. This is vital to our village, our industrial park, and to our residential community. We just want to see that interchange fixed.”

Following discussion, council members unanimously approved a motion to support Hatfield in the investigation of a grant and potential investment not to exceed $100,000 in matching funds related to a future Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission application for road work and construction costs related to a southern interchange at U.S. 36/State Route 37 and Interstate 71 — contingent upon final council approval of expenditure of funds.

Last Saturday, Craig said the importance of the southern interchange is portrayed by the resolution that was passed at Sunbury Council July 6

“If the southern interchange is the only interchange that ODOT has on the table for 36-37, they would just be putting Band-Aids on the existing interchange if they spend that money there,” Craig said. “In the end, the decision on how that $16.5 million will be spent will be made by Delaware County and ODOT, and ODOT has the upper hand.”

By Lenny C. Lepola

For The Gazette

Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093. Email: [email protected]

Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093. Email: [email protected]