Columbus puts heart and soul into new park

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 Messenger photo by John Matuszak
 Taking part in the April 14 groundbreaking for the Scioto Mile at Bicentennial Park are, from left, Franklin County Commission President Marilyn Brown, U.S. Congresswoman Deborah Pryce, American Electric Power CEO Michael Morris, Mayor Michael Coleman and City Council President Michael Mentel.

Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman is hoping the city makes a big splash when it opens the Scioto Mile in 2011, a park that will include such amenities as fountains and a canal following the riverfront.

"All great cities have great parks," Coleman said at the April 14 groundbreaking of the $38 million project.

He predicted that the Scioto Mile would become "the heart and soul and jewel of the city" that would complement ongoing downtown development, attracting residents and jobs.

The park will include a Promenade along Civic Center Drive, from Broad Street to Rich Street, connecting Battelle and Bicentennial Parks, with a four-foot wide canal with water jets, and benches where visitors can sit and dip their feet.

A central plaza area will have seating areas and water attractions.

The walkway will be lined with swinging benches, and chess and domino tables, and will feature free Wi-Fi.

A 15,000 square-foot fountain will be constructed in Bicentennial Park, along with a permanent bandshell and a glass-walled cafe.

To make the area more accessible to pedestrians, Civic Center Drive will be narrowed to two-lane, two-way traffic. Front Street will also have two-way traffic.

Construction on Civic Center Drive, the first phase of the Scioto Mile project, is scheduled to begin next month and will be completed by summer, 2009, when work on the Promenade and Bicentennial Park will begin.

The entire project is slated for completion in time for the city’s bicentennial in 2012.

The Scioto Mile is part of the larger effort to reinvigorate downtown, the mayor noted, that includes the construction of two new bridges, two parking garages and 5,000 new apartments.

The city is also seeking to bring retail back downtown with the Mile on High and the transformation of City Center Mall.

Near Bicentennial Park, Columbus has worked with other entities to renovate the vacant Lazarus building "from what would have been the largest vacant building to what is now the largest ‘green’ rehabilitated building" in the region, Coleman said.

He recalled that there were a lot of naysayers when he first proposed a revitalized park along the Scioto River.

It took a $10 million donation from American Electric Power to jump-start the project.

Coleman called it "the largest single contribution for a public park in the history of the city."

Columbus kicked in another $10 million, and the Franklin County Commissioners also contributed, along with federal funding and corporate donations, for a 50/50 split between public and private donations.

Enough funds have been pledged to provide for an endowment for future maintenance and operations of the park.

Congresswoman Deborah Pryce, who helped secured funding through the Department of the Interior, acknowledged that the allocation was an earmark, "but it was an earmark that had the support of the community."

Franklin County Commission President Marilyn Brown pointed out that the Scioto Mile will complement the "green" courthouse under construction on High Street, and will connect with Huntington Park, the new home of the Clippers scheduled to open next year in the Arena District.

Brown called the park project "an amenity and a necessity" as a magnet for jobs.

Council President Michael Mentel, recently returned with Mayor Coleman from a trade mission to Israel, noticed all the public parks available there.

"This is nothing less than what is being done internationally," Mentel said.

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