To the east: the past. To the west: the future. That's the message Mayor Michael B. Coleman gave as he stood at the corner of Morse and Karl roads in front of the former Northland Mall last week when the city broke ground for the final phase of Morse Road improvements.

To the east: the past. To the west: the future.

That's the message Mayor Michael B. Coleman gave as he stood at the corner of Morse and Karl roads in front of the former Northland Mall last week when the city broke ground for the final phase of Morse Road improvements.

The Phase II improvements, Coleman said, would transport the unsightly Morse Road of the past into the Morse Road of the future.

Coleman said Morse Road is a testament to what can be done to improve an area with the commitment and collaboration of city, county and state governments and neighborhood leaders.

"If we did not stabilize the Morse Road corridor (after the closing of Northland Mall), we would be forced to revitalize the Morse Road corridor," Coleman said. "Stabilization is intervention."

In Phase II of Morse Road improvements, $14-million will be spent to add bike lanes, trees, medians and sidewalks, and to update storm sewers, street lights and traffic lights along the 1.2-mile stretch of Morse Road between Karl Road and Cleveland Avenue.

In Phase I, completed two years ago, $12-million was spent to give the same treatment to Morse Road between Indianola Avenue and Karl Road.

Neighborhood leaders credit Phase I of the improvements with lower vacancy rates along the business corridor and with helping to restore residents' fading neighborhood pride.

"The improvements along Morse Road allowed the Northland area to take even more pride in the area," said Aaron Gilbert, vice-chairman of the Northland Alliance.

Gilbert said business owners have committed to maintaining the improvements though a special improvement district (SID) that was created following Phase I.

The special improvement district has allowed for cutting grass, weed abatement, planting trees and flowers, and new banners on Morse Road.

Gilbert said the community remains committed to improving the economic climate of the corridor and becoming a model for revitalized neighborhoods across the city.

"Our job is far from complete," he said. "We still strive to be the template for what can be accomplished."

Mo Dioun, whose Stonehenge Co. has taken charge of transforming the 57-acre former Northland Mall site into Northland Village, said the Morse Road improvements go a long way in attracting new businesses to the mostly abandoned site.

"There's a tremendous difference," Dioun said. "One of the biggest factors that gave us confidence in the investment we were making in Northland Village is the commitment to improve Morse Road."

The Franklin County commissioners earlier this month voted to purchase eight acres of Northland Village to build a state-of-the-art dog shelter, which is expected to bring approximately 250 jobs to the area.

It will join the home improvement retailer Menard's as an anchor at the site.

Dioun said he's in talks with other prospective tenants and expects to have more announcements by the end of this year.

Coleman said the Morse Road improvements and the plans for Northland Village show that areas can be saved from decline, which was what the city feared for Northland when the mall closed in 2002.

"This has been a very long road and a very difficult road," Coleman said. "We've accomplished a great deal in a very short amount of time."