West Side News

Columbus Year in Review

Downtown development a source of pride in 2013

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

A flurry of residential development, particularly in the downtown area, topped the news in Columbus in 2013.

Among projects opening this year was HighPoint on Columbus Commons, a 301-unit complex that overlooks Columbus Commons, a park that offers several entertainment options in the central downtown district.

The greenspace would appear to be a central attraction, as two more apartment buildings near Columbus Commons were approved by City Council in late November.

That pushes the total number of downtown dwellers up to 6,000, roughly double what it was a decade ago.

Indeed, the overall economy of Columbus has outpaced other Midwestern cities.

At last glance, Columbus added more than 16,000 jobs over the past 12 months and central Ohio's unemployment rate was 6.1 percent.

Even senior living is getting a boost, as Westminster-Thurber Community announced it was building a second high-rise just north of downtown.

Goodale Landing, a $30 million project, is a 68-unit apartment building for active seniors, just north of downtown.

According to the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District, as of the end of the third quarter Sept. 30, 786 housing units were being built downtown, representing a total construction investment of roughly $103 million.

An additional 831 units, representing a total construction investment of nearly $143 million, had been proposed.

Scioto Peninsula

The Scioto Peninsula got some renewed attention this year.

In August, Columbus and Franklin County officials unveiled a redevelopment plan that included a new Veterans Memorial and a satellite facility of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, plus residential, retail and cultural amenities.

In December, county commissioners moved forward with plans to demolish the current facility and replace it with the Ohio Veterans Memorial and Museum.

Officials said it is the first of several steps to improve the 56-acre peninsula, which is across the river from downtown.

Transportation

Columbus got rolling on two transportation initiatives in the downtown area.

The first was CoGo, a bike-sharing program where customers could rent transportation with the swipe of a card.

The city intends to have 300 bikes at 30 locations in the central city when the program is fully implanted.

The other was Car2Go, a service that allows customers to rent a car by the minute, hour or day.

Education issues

Mayor Michael B. Coleman was out in front of education issues this year and, at times, had a contentious relationship with the Columbus City Schools Board of Education.

Coleman started off the year by criticizing the school board while seeking a review of the district's business management.

The move was first met with skepticism but the board later acquiesced to the mayor's request.

Shortly after, he said he would not support the board hiring any permanent replacement for retiring Superintendent Gene Harris.

That irked Board President Carol Perkins, who lashed out in an email, saying the district should "be allowed to proceed unhindered by the political motivations of a select few."

The board later appointed Dan Good, former superintendent of Westerville City Schools, to a one-year contract.

The mayor, along with business, community and labor leaders, cast his full support behind two school district issues that appeared on the ballot in November.

But district voters paid little mind to the grand endorsements.

General election

In the November election, voters soundly rejected a 9.01-mill combined operating levy and bond issue. Issue 51 was defeated 69 percent to 31 percent, while Issue 51, which would have created an independent auditor at the school district level, was beaten 61 percent to 39 percent.

Also at the ballot box, voters supported four separate city bond issues totaling $842 million that will help fund a variety of capital improvement projects in the areas of safety and health; recreation and parks; public service; and public utilities.

Meanwhile, Democrats maintained their lock on city government.

City Council incumbents Priscilla Tyson, A. Troy Miller and Eileen Paley -- all Democrats -- defeated Republicans Brian Bainbridge and Greg Lawson and independent Nick Schneider.

Veteran City Auditor Hugh Dorrian, a Democrat, beat political newcomer and independent Igor Ternovsky.

City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr., a Democrat who ran unopposed, also was returned to his position.

Two days after the election, the Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government vowed to change the way elections are held in the city.

The group called for campaign-finance reform that would give candidates access to public financing, public-access cable TV and city-sponsored debates.

City Council refused to adopt the measure, meaning it likely will head to the ballot.

Providing the coalition submits the required number of signatures, the charter amendment could appear on the primary election ballot in May.

In addition, the coalition filed a separate ballot initiative that would put a deadline on lease payments to support public payments for Nationwide Arena.

Under the coalition's proposal, unless voters approve funding for the arena, all city payments would stop Jan. 1, 2016.

Health matters

Rodents gnawed at the conscience of city officials this year.

In fact, the city had received 202 complaints of rats through September, considered a higher-than-normal number of complaints.

Clintonville was particularly hard hit.

The mayor called for a new rodent-control program in his proposed 2014 budget.

The city said it planned to spend $150,000 on vermin-eradication efforts next year.

Before the year was out, the city and Columbus Public Health organized a task force that seeks to reduce the infant mortality rate in the region.

The city, county and state fare poorly on the issue.

In terms of infant mortality, Columbus ranks 36th of the 50 largest U.S. cities; Franklin County is 71st of 88 Ohio counties; and Ohio is 48th of 50 states.

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