Coleman outlines ambitious agenda for Columbus

 Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman proposed in his State of the City address the introduction of "sleek, modern" streetcars to run along High Street from downtown to the Ohio State University campus area. The mayor has scheduled an announcement March 27 on the financing and construction for such a project, one of the many initiatives rolled out during the March 13 speech.

There are economic storm clouds on the horizon for Columbus, but you wouldn’t know it from the ambitious agenda rolled out by Mayor Michael Coleman in his March 13 State of the City address at the Lifestyle Communities Pavilion.

That list includes everything from streetcars to bikeways to buttressing downtown and other neighborhoods.

His slate also calls for enhancing safety with video cameras and a stepped-up effort to enforce the curfew laws for teenagers (see related story).

"We have barely recovered from the last recession, and we are in a new one," conceded Coleman, who has convened an economic advisory committee to look at possible cuts in city services and hikes in revenue, that could entail an income-tax increase.

The mayor’s plan for fighting these financial squalls relies on job creation and neighborhood revitalization, particularly downtown.

Part of it hinges on the approval of a bond issue planned for the November ballot that Coleman said would allow the city to finance capital improvements without a tax hike.

"Tonight, I am here to tell you, the State of the City is strong," Coleman declared. "Now we must ask ‘How do we stay strong?’"

Flying high

The local job market got a major shot in the arm the day before Coleman’s address, with the announcement that NetJets would keep its headquarters and 1,900 jobs in Columbus, with plans to add another 810 positions and make a $200 million investment here.

Coleman sees aviation as "the new horizon" for Columbus, with the success of Skybus, Airnet and Waypoint Corporation as well as NetJets, which leases private aircraft and boasts the second-largest fleet in the aviation industry.

To further this sector, Coleman is proposing the creation of an Airport Economic Development Corporation, a partnership with Whitehall, Gahanna and the Columbus Regional Airport Authority to develop the area around Port Columbus Airport.

Jobs mean income taxes that fuel the city’s operations, the mayor noted, and strengthen the fabric of the community.

"There is no better social program than a job," Coleman said in a news conference after the address.

With gasoline speeding toward $4 a gallon, Coleman is proposing the introduction of a "sleek, modern" streetcar system that could provide residents with an alternative to driving their own cars to work or to shopping.

The line would run along High Street through the Short North and Italian Village to the Ohio State campus area, a scaled-back version of an earlier proposal that included German Village.

Coleman has scheduled an announcement March 27 on the financing and construction of the transportation line that one study estimated could bring half a billion dollars in economic development to the area.

Destination Downtown

What would those people riding the streetcars see?

Coleman is calling it the Mile on High District, a refurbished area with retail, office and residential spaces spurred by incentives such as loans and grants and bolstered by improved transit and pedestrian access.

Lifestyles Communities will break ground this summer for 200 affordable apartments at Town and Rich streets, the mayor announced.

This project would be complemented by the creation of a town center at Town and High streets as part of a reconfigured City Center, to be opened up with the demolition of what Coleman called the "cavernous" walkway over High.

Running parallel to the Mile on High will be the Scioto Mile, a park running along the riverfront from North Bank Park to the Whittier Peninsula, with fountains, canals, benches, chess tables and wireless Internet access.

This project, with a groundbreaking scheduled for April, is being supported with a $10 million donation from AEP. Completion is projected for 2011, in time for the city’s bicentennial celebration.

Getting healthy, going green

Transportation, recreation and promoting healthier lifestyles come together in the city’s commitment to investing $20 million to construct 86.3 miles of bike routes and trails, being undertaken with the cooperation of Franklin County Metro Parks.

The city would fund its end through the bicentennial bond package and its capital budget.

Columbus doesn’t have beaches and mountains, but it is flat, and when it comes to riding bicycles "flat is good," Coleman said.

The race to reduce such maladies as obesity and diabetes will also be aided by the creation of the Foundation for Healthy Lifestyles, which will raise money to encourage better nutrition and exercise.

Its first event will be the Tour De Columbus family bike races August 23, setting off in the King-Lincoln district.

The foundation will also be bringing farmers’ markets to Columbus neighborhoods to provide fresh fruits and vegetables.

While residents are being encouraged to get healthy, businesses and other organization will be urged to "go green."

The "Green Spot" sticker will be provided to businesses, schools and other institutions that demonstrate environmentally friendly practices. Columbus will also promote the creation of jobs in "green" industries through the GreenWorks program.

His blueprint for the future is designed to erase the stigma of "Cow Town" from Columbus, Coleman commented, by creating a "hip and cool" place to live that retains the Midwestern values of family and work that residents say they want.

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