The third and final 2010 Downtown Columbus Strategic Plan public meeting takes place tonight from 6pm to 8pm at the Canzani Center at CCAD. This meeting will be a showcase of the finalized plan that was brought about through the public input process of the first two meetings and will provide details on next steps to make this development plan a reality. We sat down yesterday with Columbus City Councilmember Andrew Ginther to discuss the finalized plan and to get a glimpse of what Downtown Columbus may look like in the year 2020 once the various projects have been completed.
Walker Evans: This planning process has been going on for several months now and we’re about to see a finalized plan tonight. Are you still feeling energized about the process and do you think the public has been excited about playing a part in shaping the future of the city?
Andrew Ginther: Yes, we’re really excited about where we’re at in the process. I think we’ve gotten over 1000 comments from the public about their initial ideas and their response to the draft plan that was laid out at the last meeting by Keith Myers at MSI. Keith is just phenomenal at getting people to think big and differently and boldly about their city. We’ve got a strong following of committed folks who either live Downtown or work Downtown that have been a part of this process. It’s been a very inclusive and transparent process. I think folks feel pretty confident about this, because with the 2002 Strategic Business Plan, in essence, the only thing we didn’t hit was our mark for Downtown housing units. Pretty much everything else that was laid out, got accomplished. Once we all get behind this new plan, we’re going to be full steam ahead.
WE: So, I don’t imagine you can tell me which of the 12 ideas made the cut for the final plan that will be presented tonight.
AG: I would say that by and large, folks have been very supportive of a lot of the vision that was laid out at our last meeting. There might be some nuances and tweaking here and there, but that’s always part of the process. By no means will this be finished up today either. We still have to go to the Downtown Commission and City Council. The last time around, City Council wasn’t presented with the plan, so they didn’t approve formally of the plan, so we’ve decided to do that differently this time. Council helps appropriate a lot of the resources to get these things done, so it’s important to have Council’s buy-in.
WE: What other sorts of next steps need to take place before the pieces of this development plan can start to be executed?
AG: Aside from City Council and the Downtown Commission, there’s going to be an awful lot of outreach done with other partners that we’re going to identify to work on specific projects, whether it’s housing around Topiary Park or the Greenway or the Downtown Field House. There are a lot of different partners, whether it’s the Convention Authority or Experience Columbus or other folks that we’ll work with.
WE: Many of these 12 projects have been touted as potential “Public-Private Partnership” investments. Do you have any ideas on how that may assist with the budgeting and funding scenarios for any of the individual projects?
AG: I think there will be a variety of different vehicles and options for revenue to invest in these projects. Obviously, there are resources at the federal level for projects like the River Greenway, but there’s also a decent amount of money at we’re currently paying in fines as we are out of compliance with the EPA. We’re working to correct that as a part of the wet-weather management program, so those resources can be freed up and redirected toward projects that improve water quality and environmental standards around waterways. So that’s another potential piece. There’s also other opportunities to work with property owners, the Downtown Development Corporation and ODOT. Depending on the type of project, if we’re all able to pull together and embrace the vision and put together a plan that makes sense, then we should all be able to meet that need and that demand.
WE: As the Chair of the Finance & Economic Development Committee, these types of projects are something that you’ll be very hands-on with moving forward. What do you think City Council’s overall role will be in executing these plans for Downtown?
AG: I think our role is all about prioritizing projects, and making sure that the city is investing in these projects both directly as well as leveraging some matching dollars from Franklin County or
WE: City Council always plays a vital role in the public input process for these types of projects as well. Are there plans for continued or ongoing outreach as we continue to move forward?
AG: There will be at least one upcoming public hearing that I’m hoping to hold in partnership with our Development Chair Priscilla Tyson, sometime in the coming month or two to get the public’s feedback on this plan. We want to make sure that folks who haven’t been able to attend other community meetings or folks from other parts of the city who want to weigh in on this plan get a chance to. As we’ve talked about at the other meetings, Downtown contributes a significant amount to the quality of life of all of the other neighborhoods throughout Central Ohio. It doesn’t matter if you live in Grandview or Granville, everyone has a vested interest in how Downtown Columbus performs.
WE: Being that we are still in an economic downturn, do you think that this 10-year development plan will have a slow start at first, or that we will be able to push forward early on with some of the projects that have the most potential for creating jobs and stimulating the local economy in a positive way?
AG: I think it all depends on the project. With these 12 project ideas I think some will have more of an economic impact than others. For example, the housing around Topiary Park. I don’t think that’s a long term project. There are a few issues to be dealt with and investments to be made, but that is something that can be done more immediately. We have one of the greatest parks in the entire city and it’s surrounded by surface parking lots. That parking needs to be relocated into a garage, but we don’t have to tear any buildings down to develop there. That type of consolidated parking development has already worked out well in other parts of Downtown so I think that’s a project that can be done sooner rather later and we can see some pretty significant impact.
Some of the other larger projects that include utilities and infrastructure and roadways will be more of the medium-to-longer range projects. With the Downtown Field House, identifiying the resources to get that done will be important, but as we move forward with building this new Downtown Convention Hotel, we have to keep in mind that the extra 500 hotel rooms will now put us in the ballgame for around 92% of all of the conventions in the country. Following that would be an absolute critical time that would present the oppotunity to develop the Field House and alleviate the increased demand on other parts of the Convention Center for the types of sports activities being held there. Additionally it could provide residents with a new center of wellness and activity that they can bike or walk to. That’s an exciting project, but we may have to make sure we have everything lined up to make it happen.
WE: One question I’ve asked of both Guy Worley and Keith Myers is whether or not our project ideas are unique and creative enough to warrant attention, or if we’re just assembling a collection of ideas that have worked out well in other cities and following rather than leading?
AG: After being in public service in this community for just a bit over 10 years now, I do know that we are, for the most, part a “baby-step” community. We are a community that doesn’t necessarily, at times, embrace and reward and lift up bold, cutting-edge leadership. That’s good and bad. It helps us to avoid major colossal mistakes, but it also doesn’t necessarily create an atmosphere where folks can go out on a limb and try things that are new and different. I see the 2010 Downtown Columbus Strategic Plan as a balance between the two. Some of the ideas follow some very successful models and initiatives in other cities, and I think in difficult economic times you need to reassure people who are paying the bills for these projects that what you’re proposing is workable, doable and will be successful. But I also think that we have some project ideas that will be new and different for Columbus that are based on the assets and geography that makes us unique. We’re not going to be forcing things on ourselves from other cities if they don’t fit. Based on the culture of this city and the way we go about doing things, I think this plan is something that will resonate with people and that we will all be able to rally behind and support.
WE: You’ve mentioned a few of the 12 ideas that were proposed at the last meeting. Do you have any personal favorites that have been proposed, or do you see any standing out as being more critically important for shaping the future of Downtown?
AG: I am often times criticized for thinking too far out and too far down the road, but I think the Downtown Transit Center and the Multi-Modal Center both focus on one of the most pressing needs in this city long-term. MORPC is estimating another 600,000 to 800,000 people will be coming to Central Ohio by 2030, which is just 20 years from now, and a good portion of those people folks are going to be within the city of Columbus. We are the largest city in the country without a viable mass transit system. We only had 250,000 people in this city 60 years ago, and now we’re up to around 780,000. We’re not going to be America’s 21st Century City and continue to grow and prosper with all of the other challenges that the rest of
WE: I find it interesting because those two projects are more about the transit center buildings themselves and not about the transit systems and how they would work or where they would go. I’ve heard a few folks say that this Downtown Plan isn’t something that is all-inclusive and other projects can be added or work with in tandem that services other areas outside of Downtown. Do you see a future transit network plan as something that would compliment the Downtown plan?
AG: Yeah, although these two transit center project ideas don’t lay out the systems or the lines or the operations, I do think it will help folks understand and see and touch how mass transit can work and how much better our city can be with it if we really embrace it and invest in it.
Public Meeting #3 takes place tonight, Tuesday, May 25, 2010 from 6-8pm in the Canzani Center, at the Columbus College of Art & Design, located at 60 Cleveland Avenue.
More information can be found online at DowntownColumbus.com/plan.