Archive for December 13th, 2009

The debate over the increase in parking meter rates in Columbus has been raging for a couple of weeks now.  I’ve listened to and read information from the opposition – those who feel that they were not informed about the rates and that the new rates will be too high.  I’ve read and listened to the folks on the defense – those hoping to gain additional revenue for the city to help fund the new convention center hotel.  Both sides of the story have specific merits.

One certainly can’t fault the city for looking for additional sources of revenue.  Columbus is not alone in it’s search.  And downtown business owners are there against all odds, coming to the table with as many creative ideas as they can to help sustain themselves.

There is, in my opinion, a debate that should come somewhere in the middle of both arguments.  It is, I believe, why there is such a chasm being created within this issue.

The middle argument is really about density (or lack there of) and transportation.  Columbus city government has been saying for years that they’re in favor of a strong and healthy urban center – an anchor for the region.  The challenge is that they have failed to deliver.

When we speak of “downtown” I believe its safe to refer to it as the land mass between Nationwide Boulevard and the 70/71 split.  The Short North and the Arena District are doing rather well, but only the revival of Gay Street can be seen as a tiny speck of hope within the landmass referred to as downtown.

While there are more people living downtown than in the past  (4,900 as of the end of 2007), there is now less retail than there was in 2007.  Commercial (office) vacancy rates are now about 13% and there are fewer and fewer reasons to spend time in downtown Columbus.  The city may be constructing parks and parkways, but until there is sufficient pedestrian activity, these amenities are not much more than landscaping.

Columbus city government has also failed to develop a comprehensive transportation system that will support the future growth of the downtown core.  While COTA’s bus system works to a certain degree for the residents of ‘in town’ neighborhoods, it simply does not address the needs of bringing in large numbers of suburban workers or visitors.

Additionally, a vast majority of the new downtown residents still must depend upon the use of an automobile to get to and from basic vendors of goods and services.  That is hardly a draw for downtown living.

It should come as no surprise to Columbus city government that downtown business owners are upset over increased costs being applied to their customers.  The battle downtown businesses currently face is that they must rely upon people in cars to survive – the City of Columbus has failed to deliver an alternative to the automobile.  Density is still too low downtown and the public transportation system is not adequate.

Had these two situations been addressed properly over the past decade, there might be enough pedestrian traffic downtown to prepare for a parking rate increase – the demand would have already been present.  But downtown Columbus is failing and increasing the cost to park is yet another obstacle for our entrepreneurs to overcome.

The debate over this issue has sparked dialogue between the two groups and city government appears eager to appease these entrepreneurs by holding more meetings and carrying out more studies.

Perhaps it’s nice to live in a city where local government is willing to react to its mistakes.  It’s certainly nice to live in a city where the local entrepreneurs have a vision for the place where they chose to set up shop.

Perhaps it would be nice to live in a city where the government takes on a leadership role in the first place by providing vision and alternatives – rather than finding themselves at odds with it’s businesses and residents.

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