The Columbus Board of Education has signed off on a 15-year, 100% tax abatement for a gene therapy center proposed by Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
At Tuesday's meeting, the board voted unanimously to approve the incentives for Andelyn Biosciences, a for-profit company planned for Ohio State University’s West Innovation Campus. Andelyn would manufacture gene therapy products, which it would then sell to pharmaceutical or biotech companies for use in medical treatment.
The abatement still needs final approval from Columbus City Council.
As WOSU previously reported, Nationwide Children’s says the facility would cost about $64 million to construct and would employee 150 people, but would likely not turn a profit for several years. Under the deal, Andelyn would be exempt from paying taxes on those land improvements to Columbus City Schools for 15 years.
During that time period, Andelyn would still pay millions in income and land taxes to the city and school district – more than is currently being produced, but less than would be collected if the project went through without the abatement. The land is owned by the state and does not currently produce tax revenue.
Several attendees at Tuesday’s meeting spoke out against the deal. Former Nationwide Children’s employee Marybeth Camboni criticized the hospital for putting “profits over people,” saying that it will likely make billions of dollars from the drugs it produces.
“What they don’t need is assistance from the city of Columbus. If anything, they should be donating its profits to Columbus City Schools, not taking money from them,” Camboni said. “Last June, you voted for a tax abatement of $55.6 million for CoverMyMeds, a corporation, and teachers protested. Where does it end? This is an injustice.”
The city teachers’ union has long opposed tax abatements. Columbus Education Association president John Coniglio questioned why Nationwide Children’s required such a deal now.
"Children’s Hospital does do good things in Columbus City Schools," Coniglio told WOSU. "But my question would be: Are you doing this just because you don’t want to take the risk that regular individuals have to take every time they want to open a business or do something new?"
Many board members praised the existing partnership between Nationwide Children’s and Columbus City Schools. The hospital is offering $53 million in health care services to Columbus schools during the 15-year abatement period.
“Just know that we hear you when you come to talk to us, and you talk to us about resources for our kids, we do not take that lightly,” said board president Jennifer Adair following the vote. “In this case, it feels like, as you saw by the vote today, we think we are getting something better for the children – and all of the children in our community.”
Adair added that the Board of Education will launch a committee analyzing how it approaches tax abatements on the whole.
“Setting aside that this is a unique abatement, a unique situation, overall we are committed to look at this whole process sand try to come up with a comprehensive way to approach these abatements, because they keep coming,” said board member Carol Beckerle. “And part of our concern, in addition to wanting to be fair and analyze them… is we need to be mindful that they are taking up too much of our time. Our mission is to figure out how to best educate our children.”