The Westside of Columbus has been on a downward trend economically over the last several years. Recent business closings have served to amplify the situation, forcing residents and community leaders to take notice and take action.
A meeting held Feb. 2 at Parkview United Methodist Church was the second in a series of three meetings geared towards the revitalization of the Hilltop.
Church representatives found themselves opening room dividers and scrambling to assemble tables and chairs, as concerned residents poured into the building’s basement, armed with concerns and ideas.
In all, over 150 citizens, business leaders, and city, county and state officials were in attendance.
Tom Ruttan, a member of the church’s community outreach committee, began the meeting by posing a simple question, “What were the good ol’ days?”
He shared memories of his youth spent on the Westside, and then said, “When your kids grow up and think back to today, what are the going to say was the good ol’ days? What a change has occurred over the last 30 or 40 years!”
The packed room quickly became a sea of nodding heads.
The next two hours revolved around two questions, “If you had the power to change something, what would that be?” and “What are you going to do to make that happen?”
Some of the problems residents would like to see addressed? Fewer empty buildings, less crime, more sidewalks, more owner-occupied residences, economic vitality, neighborhood stability, a use for Westland Mall, and restored pride in the Hilltop.
“I just want a coffee shop,” one woman said.
Ruttan agreed that these were all good things to work towards, but said that a plan would be needed.
“It’s like having a pep rally and not having a game plan,” he added.
Gary Baker, former chair of the Greater Hilltop Area Commission and the newest member of the Columbus City Schools Board of Education, addressed the audience.
“Just get plugged in, get involved. Each and every one of you can make a difference,” he said.
Baker described the Boulevard Strategies economic study funded by the Hilltop Business Association that is currently underway, noting that while there is plenty of money being spent by Hilltop residents, 95 percent of that money is being spent elsewhere.
Baker said it is his hope that, once the initial study is finished, the Hilltop will be able to again retain the services of Boulevard Strategies to help decide how to go about “attracting new businesses and to help develop existing businesses.”
Ruttan described another major problem of the area, “We’re dealing with several other government entities. We need a partnership of city, township, neighborhood and government officials to work together to make a difference.”
“We want the Westside revitalized. We don’t want to be a forgotten stepchild,” he added.
Also in attendance were Columbus City Council representatives Priscilla Tyson and Hearcel Craig, discussing plans for the Westside. While Tyson focused on the area of parks and recreation, Craig discussed small businesses.
“We want to do more. How can we do more…We want to hear from you. We want to work with you,” said Craig.
Tyson recommended that the members of council hold a “town hall” type meeting on the Westside as a way for residents to get questions answered.
“It’s such a wonderful community and it has given so much to our city,” said Craig.
Also at the meeting was Dan Stewart, State Representative of the 25th House District.
Stewart emphasized the importance of communicating and working as a team with the your neighbors and your government.
“We’re not in this alone. We are all in this together,” he said.
Representatives from the church will compile a list of concerns and ideas brought up at the meeting. They hope for the next meeting to focus on forming a plan for working towards those goals.
The next meeting will be held on Feb. 26 at 7 p.m., in the basement of Parkview United Methodist Church, 344 S. Algonquin Ave.