Cooper 2.0: With sale of Cooper Stadium, automotive center can accelerate
The Columbus Dispatch Editorial
When Franklin County commissioners signed off on the sale of Cooper Stadium last week, they transferred 47 acres and kept a promise: Rebirth is coming to this West Side neighborhood.
Many a Franklinton youth earned grocery money for their struggling families, or saved for college working in that stadium. Many central Ohioans grew up cheering in that stadium for their minor league team — first the Columbus Red Birds, then the Jets and the Clippers. When the sun went down on a hot summer night and the lights came up, the pitcher dug his shoes into the clay and the crowd went crazy for the smack of the bat against the ball. It was magic.
And there will be magic and memories again.
Arshot Investment Corp. has spent four years developing plans for a motorsports, research and entertainment complex that will return visitors and jobs to this corner of Franklinton. Had the drawings now on the table been there four years ago when commissioners first announced the $3.4 million sale, the protracted and sometimes heated community discussion likely would have been avoided.
All some neighbors heard then were the words auto racing. They feared noise would ruin their peace and property values.
But the project has evolved since May 2008. The track at Cooper will hold auto racing, perhaps 20 stock-car or legends-type races a year, but its greater value will be in allowing teams of engineers to design and test drive efficient vehicles and fuel systems. This could position Columbus at the forefront of efforts to reinvent the U.S. auto industry.
The amphitheater around the track will also allow the development to host BMX bike competitions, concerts, rodeos and festivals.
In May 2008, commissioners were nervous. They had promised Franklinton that they wouldn’t abandon it, leaving behind a vacant behemoth. They already had begun construction of Huntington Park in the Arena District. They needed the money from the sale of Cooper Stadium to pay the county’s share of the construction costs of Huntington Park, which otherwise was financed through sponsorships.
One potential deal for the stadium had fallen through. And despite advertising the property nationally, no one else had bid. Arshot, led by William J. Schottenstein, stepped forward to help out its community.
From the start, Arshot set high standards for itself, designing a $5 million sound wall and agreeing to legal mechanisms to give concerned neighbors recourse if the track is too loud. It listened to the concerns of residents and Columbus officials, answered questions and sought its own assurances from engineers and consultants.
The plan that has developed will be a boost for Franklinton and the entire city. Demolition is to start early next year, with the Sports Pavilion and Automotive Research Complex to open in 2014.
When Schottenstein set up his poster boards with maps and drawings in the county courthouse four years ago, no one could have imagined that closing the deal would take so long. But that time allowed this project to fully mature. For Columbus and Franklin County, Tuesday’s sale was Cooper Stadium’s final home run.