The Northland Area Business Association's Route 161 Task Force will use a $15,000 grant from Columbus City Council to help keep a section of the congested corridor clean and well-kept.

Meeting that goal has been a struggle for business and community leaders for years.

The task force also wants to form a special improvement district, similar to others downtown and along Morse Road in the Northland area, that could pay for mowing the grass in the median and along the tangle of access roads and provide litter control and security in the commercial corridor. Property owners would be charged a fee to fund it.

The grant money will pay for marketing materials and an updated database of businesses and landowners along the 3.5-mile stretch of state Route 161 between Huntley Road and Ponderosa Drive.

In 2006, a nine-member board of directors was named to pursue formation of a Morse Road SID and City Council gave the SID $15,000 in October that year to pay for various legal and administrative expenses.

The attempt to form a special improvement district eventually failed, however, because there are so many property owners, many of them out of state, for sites along the Route 161 corridor. To form a SID, organizers must collect the signatures of those who own at least 60 percent of the frontage along Route 161 (East Dublin-Granville Road).

Organizers were able to collect only 14 of the 160 signatures necessary, NABA President David Cooper said.

The city mows the grass only four times a year, and that's not enough to keep it looking neat, he said. So the task force cuts the grass.

"We need to organize the owners," said George Schmidt, who leads the task force. "We want to make a decision."

"It's such a critical corridor," he added.

More than 30,000 vehicles a day travel Route 161 at the Karl Road intersection just east of the Interstate 71 interchange, and more than 27,000 travel near Cleveland Avenue, according to Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission traffic counts.

But major retailers and national restaurant chains have left the area in the past decade. A Giant Eagle store west of I-71 closed last year. Olive Garden and Outback restaurants left years ago.

The stretch of Route 161 once was one of the city's premier shopping corridors. Now, it is home to many businesses serving residents of the Northland area's growing immigrant community, many of whom walk from apartments to stores and workplaces in a commercial strip built for cars.

In December, officials from the city, the Route 161 Task Force, the Northland Community Council, the Northland Area Business Association, the Central Ohio Transit Authority and MORPC met to discuss improving the area's walkability and other issues.

COTA opened a crosstown bus route in January that includes the stretch of Route 161 from Busch Boulevard to Westerville Road. After tracking ridership, COTA could add bus shelters and trash cans at bus stops along the route and perhaps work with the city to add crosswalks and sidewalks, COTA spokeswoman Lisa Myers said.

The area also has been home to problem motels that attracted crime, blight and violence. Authorities shut down three that remain closed: the former Columbus Inn & Suites and Rodeway Inn west of I-71, which closed in 2013 and 2015, respectively, and the former Red Carpet Inn at 1289 E. Dublin-Granville Road, which was shuttered in January 2014.

The owner of ABC Liquor, at 1571 E. Dublin-Granville Road, bought the 88-room Red Carpet at auction for $680,000 in November 2015. Nghiem Tran remodeled it to reopen as a motel, but he said he has no experience running one, so he is selling it to an Atlanta doctor who plans to reopen it as a motel.

The general manager will come from a hotel chain in Columbus, Tran said.

mferench@dispatch.com

@MarkFerenchik