Clintonville residents and COTA officials, once poles apart, came together last week for a ceremony marking the dedication of a facility that lets buses turn around and get back onto the street as quickly as possible.
All acrimony was set aside as Central Ohio Transit Authority executives and board members mingled with residents and Clintonville Area Commission members under a tent on a paved area at the intersection of Westview Avenue and North High Street that one day will hold a piece of public art.
The gathering took place just south of the turnaround itself, which is at 5271 N. High St., and which saw a steady stream of buses coming and going throughout the ceremony.
"When we first started out, it looked rocky," said D Searcy, the CAC's District 9 representative.
Things have smoothed over considerably, she added as the start of the brief series of speakers was delayed until the arrival of state Rep. John Patrick Carney (D-Columbus).
Formerly one of the more-vocal critics of COTA's plans for a Clintonville turnaround, Searcy was all smiles looking at the Westview Avenue addition.
"It's beautiful," she said. "Jokingly, I had said to COTA staff that I would like to see this as a world-class bus stop, and it's excellent."
"This is how community partnerships are supposed to work," Carney said during his remarks. "I just want to give all the credit to the people who live in the community and to COTA. Congratulations on a great outcome."
COTA officials in spring 2010 initially planned to purchase a nearby strip shopping center, knock it down and create a site where northbound buses could turn around to head back south. The move was at the behest of the owners of Graceland Shopping Center, who no longer wanted buses to use the parking lot for that purpose, COTA officials said at the time.
That location would have put five local enterprises out of business or forced them to relocate, setting the stage for angst on the part of neighborhood residents and leaders, not to mention the business owners.
On July 22, 2010, COTA board members voted unanimously against purchasing the strip center, and went back to the drawing board for the bus turnaround.
Various locations were considered, but each was found lacking, either due to limitations that would cause difficulty for COTA or because of objections from nearby residents.
Finally, Hadler Cos. Chief Executive Officer George C. Hadler stepped in and, although it goes against normal business practices, consented to sell the current site to COTA. Hadler himself had raised community ire earlier over the site when a Turkey Hill convenience store was proposed there.
"Ordinarily, we're a development company," Hadler said at last week's event. "We buy and hold; we don't sell."
During an interview, Hadler revealed his company recently acquired the strip shopping center at North High Street and East Kanawha Avenue that was the original choice for the bus turnaround. This gives Hadler Cos. control of almost an entire block, the CEO said.
Hadler added he would meet with members of the CAC soon to discuss development plans for that swath of property on an informal basis.
"Nothing is cast in stone," he said.
Hadler said his company will pay to tear down an abandoned gas station across the street from the Westview Avenue turnaround.
Kevin Wood of the COTA board of trustees opened the festivities by thanking the 35 or 40 people who turned out and expressing gratitude to residents for working with COTA officials to "create an asset, something we can all be proud of."
"What you see is a testament to what can go on when people in a community are involved," said W. Curtis Stitt, COTA's president and CEO. "COTA's very proud of all the effort that took place in all the community meetings."