Renewal was the theme for 2012 on the West Side, which saw the building and opening of a new casino and the start of new community-centered projects targeted to make the area a better and safer place.
Before the doors were opened in October for the much-anticipated Hollywood Casino, there was much discussion about the positives it would bring to the area's declining neighborhoods and business corridors.
Members of the Westland Area Commission (WAC) said it would take a lot of work to ensure the sound redevelopment of the area after the casino doors opened. It was their hope that the casino would employ many West Side residents, but that turned out not to be the case.
In June, representatives from the Central Ohio Workforce Investment Corp. (COWIC) gave the WAC an update on how they were involved in the hiring process. To the dismay of commission members, only a few on the West Side applied for the 2,000 jobs the casino offered.
"They are waiting to hire West Side residents, but they are not getting a lot of applicants," COWIC representative Frankie Nowlin said at the June WAC meeting. "A lot of the applicants are coming from out of state."
Local business leaders are still waiting to see what the casino will bring to revitalize the business corridors on the West Side, but Chris Hadocy of Hadocy Automotive told the WAC long before the casino opened that even though it would not be a perfect solution, it could be the catalytic event to change the face of the West Side.
A redevelopment study of the area showed promise when it for redevelopment along West Broad Street, starting from the east at Wilson Road all the way west to I-270.
"Research suggests that hospitality and spas, along with upscale hotels, is what the market should be driving us to do," Hadocy said.
He stressed to commission members that the private sector must get involved to assure redevelopment happens quickly and responsibly.
The casino reached the $20-million mark in revenue for the month of November, up from the $18.3 million it made in October. Whether it will spur any major redevelopment in the area has yet to be seen.
Prairie Township JEDZ
The future for a new community center, increased police protection and the return of a leaf pick-up program were all the direct results of Prairie Township residents passing a Joint Economic Development Zone (JEDZ) agreement in the fall of 2011.
The JEDZ is limited to non-residential areas, so there was no increase in taxes for the majority of those living or owning property in the township. The JEDZ only affects the commercial strip in and around the West Broad Street corridor.
Taxes paid on money earned by workers within the JEDZ now stays in the township instead of following those workers to their home communities. Money captured from the JEDZ funded a variety of services in 2012, including increased protection from the Franklin County Sheriff's Office, road improvements and the re-establishment of the fall leaf pick-up program in the township.
Projects that the JEDZ will fund in the future include road and aesthetic improvements to West Broad Street, infrastructure work and possibly a community center.
Trustees predicted that the passage of the JEDZ would allow the township to remain solvent for years to come. Without voter approval last year, 2012 finances would have looked bleak with cuts to the budget for police protection, the senior center, equipment upgrades and road improvements.
Disappointment for WAC
Members of the Westland Area Commission had a disappointing year in trying to get the attention they want from the city of Columbus.
During the summer, WAC members told city officials they believe the West Side is underserved. In August, the WAC passed a resolution urging Columbus City Council to allow voters to decide in November whether they want to change the way city council members are elected.
Commission member Adam Slane said better representation of the Westland area is needed in order to serve residents better and stressed the importance of having representation from all parts of the city on council.
"I feel that a change in structure of city council is not a bad idea," Slane said at the August WAC meeting. "I believe the city doesn't pay attention to us, and I don't think we have anything to lose. Let the people decide."
A grassroots effort led by the Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government failed in its attempt to change the way Columbus residents elect council members. The coalition had sought to change the city charter to allow for a mixed at-large and district-elected council.
According to the Franklin County Board of Elections, the coalition did not collect enough signatures on petitions in time to get the issue on the November ballot. The coalition asked area commissions and civic groups to urge Columbus City Council to place the issue on the ballot voluntarily.
WAC members have been at odds with the city for several years regarding the recreational needs of the Westland community. City promises of a new community center and a promised park along West Broad Street have yet to be realized.
Another 2012 disappointment for the WAC was the cancellation of its first Taste of Westland. Slane, who spearheaded the planning of the event that would have featured local eateries and businesses, had to cancel it due to lack of interest.
He and commission members said they would try again next year and would start recruiting businesses far earlier.