Northland Area Business Association president Alice Foeller said she feels fortunate to have found someone to quickly fill the void left when George Schmidt resigned as chairman of the State Route 161 Task Force.
After spending the last three years attempting to get city officials and business owners in the once-vital commercial corridor for the neighborhood on board with revitalization efforts, Schmidt decided to devote more time to his church and to working with youth at the North YMCA.
"I think if maybe someone new takes over, they can start in a new direction," Schmidt said after his departure was announced.
That someone will be Mary Lutz, director of the Ashland University Columbus Center on East Dublin-Granville Road.
"I've been attending the meetings for a while now, a couple of years -- close to three, really," Lutz said.
"I believe in the importance of the work of the task force. I believe it's critical that we work together as a whole for the good of the 161 corridor and the Northland community."
Foeller said she's "relieved that we have someone capable so that we don't have a vacancy and lose all the momentum that George has been building.
"I'm excited it's someone who has a new type of background," she said. "Ashland and Mary have been a great partner of Northland, providing meeting space and other kinds of support, so it's exciting to see Ashland and Mary taking a leadership role in this kind of thing."
Lutz readily agreed to take over as task force coordinator when asked, Foeller said.
"There was no arm-twisting," she added.
Helping to revitalize state Route 161 between New Albany and Worthington is going to require teamwork, according to Lutz.
"It's not one person doing 80 to 90 percent of the work," she said. "Secondly, and this really encapsulates a lot of the specific functions of the task force, we need to coordinate the functions of what we're doing into an integrated whole.
"And finally, I think advocacy is a huge part of that because we need to be representing the interests of the corridor and the residents of the Northland area to the ... areas of the city."
Lutz said she is excited about a marketing study that Columbus Department of Development personnel will be moving forward for the corridor.
"They are in the process of finalizing, based on the results of those meetings, a request for proposal that will go out for bid from interested marketing agencies to do that work," she said. "That should provide the 161 Task Force and all of the leadership entities in the Northland area with critical information as we move forward on how best to meet the needs of our community.
"It's important to have that data to make decisions that are data-driven ... to be serving the very real needs of people and businesses."
Foeller said she was dubious about the value of a marketing study until she met with city representatives.
"In our meeting, I got a better idea about when the development department conducts a marketing study," she said.
"It's the development department that learns more about the region and they're more likely to introduce a business to a space on 161 if they've conducted a study of 161."
The requests for proposal should go out in the next month or so, according to Lutz, and marketing companies will have 30 days to respond.