Eastmoor eyesores collapse should wake up City Hall

Editor’s note: The print version of this commentary reflected the situation as of Feb. 6. By Feb. 8, with the assistance of City Councilwoman Priscilla Tyson, the sign that fell in front of the Mirage had been cleaned up. This updated version takes into account this progress, while continuing a call for more stringent code enforcement to prevent further problems and possible injury or death from falling structures.

The large metal palm that stood in front of the now-vacant Mirage lounge on Main Street remains a twisted heap after collapsing. Columbus code enforcement officers say they can only respond to complaints about such structures, and had had no warning that the sign was set to fall over, although area block watch members say they pointed out the danger months ago.
The Mirage sign stood near the intersection of Main Street and Weyant Avenue where children cross to get to school in the Eastmoor neighborhood.

If a tree falls in Columbus, does anyone at City Hall hear it?

A 15-foot metal palm tree in front of the former Mirage lounge and strip club on East Main Street recently collapsed, apparently during a recent wind storm.

A phone call to Columbus City Councilwoman Priscilla Tyson hastened the removal of the twisted wreck.

But the question remains: why was such an obviously unsound structure allowed to pose a danger to residents, and are there other teetering towers that have escaped the attention of code enfocement, ready to fall in the Eastmoor neighborhood?

Gayle Worthington, with Peacekeepers block watch, reported that she had pointed out concerns about the Mirage sign to code officers in September, as well as other obvious violations in the neighborhood.

The Franklin County auditor’s web site shows no owners for the property at 3369 E. Main  St., which is vacant.

Eastmoor residents has been fighting hard to turn back the results of neglect and prevent further blight.

The Mirage sign is near the intersection at Weyant Avenue, where students walk to school or wait for the bus.

The area, wedged between Bexley and Whitehall, is easy for city officials to forget, although several members of City Council and Mayor Michael Coleman live nearby.

Tyson, an Eastmoor native, had not been aware of the accident and called it "unfortunate" that the sign collapsed.

"I care about all neighborhoods. Every neighborhood is working hard to grow and thrive. I’m focused on all neighborhoods," the councilwoman commented.

I have to think that if the Drexel Theater marquee or the Rubino’s sign in Bexley crashed to the ground, residents would be hollering and would want to know why their well-being is being ignored.

I think that such an incident would earn more than a one-time glance. More scrutiny toward maintaining public safety is needed.

Dana Rose, from the code office, explains that enforcement is "almost totally complaint-driven," and that no complaints had been received about the Mirage sign.

If the city had more resources, they could send out crews to inspect the signs all over town, Rose said. As it is, there are only four employees assigned to the eastside area that extends to I-270.

He was not aware of anything else that is in imminent risk of falling over at this time.

If I lived in the neighborhood, I’d be looking around wondering what else is getting ready to topple over from the next stiff breeze.

And my eyes would anxiously fall on the large sign at Motel One, that popular local playground which was shut down for a year by court order due to the drug trafficking and prostitution that centers around the property.

That effort was undertaken with the cooperation of many of the good people who live in the Eastmoor area, along with police, code enforcement and the city attorney’s office.

Residents are worried that such graffiti, accompanied by words that cannot be printed in a family newspaper, are signals for the customers of prostitutes that frequent the neighborhood. Urban decay and the proliferation of crime usually accompany one another.

These folks were tired of having hookers turn tricks on their front lawns and dealers doling out their merchandise where their children walk to school.

The Eastmoor Civic Association association has initiated a business block watch for Main and Broad streets to band merchants together.

In another effort, the association worked with the city development office to create plans for neighborhood renovations they hope will attract and retain families, businesses and customers.

That’s all on paper, and it takes money to make such dreams a reality.

Today, Eastmoor residents have another  vivid reminder of what urban blight looks like –  a crumpled metal palm tree.

It’s the "broken windows" theory of crime prevention, that evidence of neglect attracts criminals.

And this is not just an Eastmoor problem. There is no wall between Bexley to the west and Whitehall to the east.

Crime spills over and everybody is at risk, as shown when Bexley police responded to an armed stand-off at the Wendy’s near James Road in December.

Whitehall residents near the border with Columbus have also complained of increasing crime.

I’m sure the folks at Wal-Mart who built the new store in Whitehall wouldn’t be pleased to have crime filtering in from adjacent neighborhoods and scaring away their customers.

There are probably other neighborhoods more in need of city attention, but they didn’t deteriorate overnight, either.

It’s time for Columbus officials to see the forest for the palm trees and get something done in Eastmoor.

John Matuszak is managing editor and eastside editor for the Columbus Messenger.

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