Booster

A Columbus look ahead

Mayor to rest of country: Hey, we're over here

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Mayor Michael B. Coleman plans to spend much of his energy in 2014 trying to raise the national profile of Columbus.

The mayor acknowledges that, despite significant advances made on the cultural, dining, sports and shopping scenes, the city often is identified as a college town beyond the reaches of central Ohio.

"Columbus is a different city than we were 10 or 15 years ago," said Dan Williamson, Coleman's spokesman.

"We've seen improvements in each of our neighborhoods, but the most dramatic transformation -- and most visible to visitors -- has been in our Downtown."

In recent years, the city has added the Scioto Mile, Columbus Commons and Main Street Bridge and Rich Street bridges, Williamson said.

The city also announced plans to transform the Scioto Peninsula, across the Scioto River from downtown.

"Downtown has also become a vibrant residential neighborhood with more than 5,000 housing units," Williamson said.

On the mayor's wish list is securing the Republican or Democratic national conventions in 2016.

Williamson called Columbus the "center of the political universe" as a perennially important, national battleground state.

Each presidential election, national media, politicos and pundits camp out on the Statehouse lawn awaiting elections results.

In 2012, Columbus got more business from the presidential-candidate visits than any other battleground city in the country, Williamson said.

"They're here anyway so let's have a convention here," he said.

Columbus is better poised to compete with other cities with the new 532-room Hilton Columbus Downtown.

More sports attractions mean more visitors, too, Williamson said.

Columbus will host the NHL All-Star game in 2015. Columbus has been named a finalist for a future NCAA Women's Final Four. In addition, the city will host nine NCAA championships over the next several years.

"All of these things are good and they create momentum," Williamson said.

Giving people greater access to Columbus will help elevate the city's standing across the U.S., Williamson said.

An important step in that direction occurred over the summer, when Delta Air Lines and American Airlines announced they would increase nonstop flights to Los Angeles from Columbus International Airport.

"What the mayor's looking at is a bigger picture way to make it easier for people to get here, either through direct flights or transportation options," Williamson said. "And how do we tell our story better?

"At this moment he doesn't have a single answer for that," Williamson said.

Education still is a top priority for the mayor, who spent considerable time and political capital on the issue in 2013.

He enthusiastically endorsed Issue 50, a 9.01-mill combination operating levy/bond issue for Columbus City Schools, and Issue 50, which would have created an independent auditor for the district. Both issues were soundly defeated in the November general election.

Coleman is not even whispering about the prospects of a schools levy in 2014, Williamson said.

Although there is a need for new revenue, the mayor acknowledges, the public wants to see change and reform, he said.

In other highlights for the new year, the city will continue its stepped-up code-enforcement efforts by holding the landlords accountable for their properties.

In his proposed 2014 operating budget, the mayor included funds to hire eight additional housing inspectors and a supervisor.

He also proposed tougher penalties for code violators, ordered code enforcement to step up its efforts aggressive and moved to improve record-keeping in the division.

Also included in the budget is $150,000 for a new rodent-control program providing limited services to one area of the city at a time. The work would involve assessment of the region and community education about rodent control.

On another health-related topic, a task force looking for ways to reduce the infant mortality rate will convene in January.

The task force will develop a communitywide strategy to reduce infant mortality by 40 percent overall and 50 percent in the black community.

Franklin County residents Jan. 1 started paying more for dishwashers, automobiles, computers and other durable goods.

Shortly before the year was out, the Franklin County Board of Commissioners raised the local sales tax by 0.5 cents on the dollar, moving the entire tax rate to 7.5 percent -- the second highest in Ohio. The commissioners estimate the tax increase will raise an additional $96 million a year.

The Columbus Recreation and Parks Department is expected to wrap up a master-planning process this spring. The effort will take a broad look at park space, open space and programming throughout the system.

Columbus voters could very well be faced with two ballot initiatives this primary election: one that would give candidates for City Council and mayor access to public campaign money and another that would end taxpayer subsidy of Nationwide Arena.

The Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government submitted petitions in November to create an opt-in system for candidates who set voluntary caps on their campaigns -- $85,000 for council and $350,000 for mayoral races.

Those candidates, in turn, would have access to $300,000 total in public dollars from casino revenue, along with airtime on public-access cable TV and city-sponsored debates.

Shortly after, the coalition turned in more petitions looking to stop city payments to the arena by 2016.

Coalition members have said voters already have said "no" five times to public financing of the arena, home of the Columbus Blue Jackets, but the city repeatedly has ignored those issues. The issues could face some legal challenges by the city.

As of late December, the petitions had yet to be certified for the ballot.

The coalition also could pursue this year a ballot initiative that creates a new system of representation on City Council.

The proposal is a combination of districts, otherwise known as wards, as well as at-large representation. The group tried to get that measure on the ballot in 2012 but failed because of a lack of valid signatures.

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