CHICAGO — The Ohio Legislature last week passed a measure creating a new bond-issuing authority to help finance an expansion of an 88-acre conservatory near downtown Columbus.
The measure passed both chambers unanimously June 3 and now awaits Gov. Ted Strickland’s signature.
The bill gives the Franklin Park Conservatory’s recreation district the power to issue revenue bonds, as well as open lines of credit and enter into lease agreements, to help finance its $100 million, three-phase master plan.
The conservatory, which was the site of the U.S. Christopher Columbus Quincentenary Jubilee, will now be able to issue its own bonds to finance the end of the second and third stages of its master plan, estimated to cost up to $80 million.
The conservatory has already issued $7 million of bonds through the Columbus-Franklin County Finance Authority to finance the first phase of the plan.
The new law allows the district to issue 30-year bonds that are payable from revenue generated at the park. The conservatory estimates that its current revenue streams — which include admission fees, sales, public and private donations, and some state and county funding — will be adequate to pay all debt service and bond principal retirement costs, according to a fiscal analysis of the bill.
If the conservatory issued $80 million of bonds at an interest rate of 5.25%, it would end up paying $160.6 million over 30 years, fiscal analysts estimated.
The conservatory plans to finish the first phase of the master plan by next year, begin the second phase in 2012, and finish the third phase by 2020. Projects include a new four-acre campus, greenhouse, auditorium, lake, and boathouse.
The conservatory is located in the park where the U.S. held its celebration of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World. The celebration featured what was described as the largest flower show in the Western Hemisphere.
The bill was one of a flurry of measures considered by the Legislature last week in the days before it adjourned for its summer recess. Lawmakers will likely return to Columbus after the November election.
In the meantime, the state’s newly formed Budget Planning and Management Commission is expected to begin meeting over the next few weeks. The commission was formed last year with the task of crafting strategies to help balance the upcoming 2012-2013 budget, which is currently short by roughly $8 billion. Ohio operates under a two-year budget.