City leaders expect 2018 to be a major year for Westerville's fastest-growing area -- the northwest corner -- and particularly the growing Westar Place while the city continues to work on its infrastructure.
David Collinsworth, Westerville's city manager, said the Marriott Renaissance hotel, the centerpiece of the 62-acre tract known as Westar Place, should be open by the spring, and he expects that to speed up an already rapid stretch of development.
When the project was announced in 2014, Collinsworth and other city leaders said the hotel would be a key economic driver for the city, and he said he's already thrilled with the dominos that have fallen since then.
"I think (the hotel) is already having that impact," he said. "Right now we've got three parcels sold, two more under contract that we'll be closing on in the next 60 to 90 days, and two to three more parcels that we're negotiating the sale of now. So the interest and activity level is pretty significant right now."
Collinsworth said he believes another two or three parcels could be under contract by the end of 2018, continuing a pace he's pleased with and one he hopes will attract the large investments the city is after.
"It sets the tone for that area -- particularly for the one aspect of business we're really trying to attract, which is the regional or national headquarters type of user," he said.
"We think the hotel and some of the support services that will come along ... can help to support corporate interest in that area," he said.
Although the plan for Westar might seem to have come together quickly, council chairman Mike Heyeck, who has served on council since 1993, said it's been a long time coming for decision-makers who have been around since the idea's inception.
"We annexed the area in the mid-'90s, so it's been 20-plus years in the making," he said. "So it is nice to see the development being spawned with the investment we made on Polaris and Cleveland and Africa and County Line and so on."
Westar will require plenty of time and energy from city staff members, but Heyeck and Collinsworth said it's important to not be overly focused on the area.
Elsewhere in the community, Collinsworth said, the city remains committed to maintaining its major roadways. He pointed to the current project at Cleveland Avenue and Schrock Road, which he hopes will be completed by fall of 2018, as the main roadway project of the year.
"We focused, really, on getting Cleveland knocked out and getting that done, as far as major thoroughfares go," he said.
Although there may not be any other massive roadwork in 2018, Heyeck said, the undertaking at Cleveland and Schrock shouldn't be discounted.
"Cleveland Avenue is not going to be a trivial project," he said. "It's a major project."
Residents won't see any construction on State Street in Uptown in 2018, but Collinsworth said he expects city council to provide a direction for plans to update the area's streetscape. He said while there may be some minor inconveniences during the 2019 construction of one of the options, the plans have been misconstrued by some, especially given the major inconveniences stemming from the city's South State Street project.
"Unfortunately, by virtue of our proximity to the South State Street improvement project, there are a lot of expectations that you're going to see as radical of a construction project in Uptown as we did there," he said. "That's simply not the case.
"I think, unfortunately, it somehow got characterized in that vein by some," he said.
"To think of this in the way that some thought about South State Street in terms of having large trenches in the street for months at a time -- that's really not what's going on here with this project," he said.
The disconnect between Collinsworth's expectations and those of Uptown residents and business owners concerns Heyeck, who said his biggest priority as council chairman will be to improve communication between residents and leaders, especially regarding construction projects.
"I just want to go through lessons learned with some of the projects, especially the ones we had last year, and develop a better way of communicating and interfacing with businesses and residents," he said. "I want to make sure that this is a focus before we do anything in Uptown in 2019."
Heyeck said he "wouldn't say that we're poor at" communication now, but he would like things to be even better. He said he'd like to use social media and other forms of communication more effectively and answer questions before they need to be asked.
"We delight our citizens right now with snow removal or leaf pickup," he said. "I'd like to extend that to construction management.
"Construction is hard; it always is. But we need to make it a little easier," he said.