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Posts Tagged ‘downtown’

I laughed out loud when I read the Columbus Dispatch editorial stating that COTA buses  are to blame for the 45 empty store fronts along High Street in downtown Columbus.

The editorial states that, according to a downtown strategic plan endorsed last year by the Downtown Commission and Columbus City Council, bus traffic along High Street increases congestion, blocks storefronts and prevents on-street parking.

There are numerous valid reasons why 45 High Street storefronts remain vacant and public transit is not one of them.

We could look back to 1989 when City Center removed pedestrian traffic from once vibrant streets and encapsulated it inside an urban bunker.  While Columbus wasn’t the only city to duplicate sub-urban shopping facilities in a downtown environment, it none the less did what every other one of it’s kind did – it took pedestrians off of the linear path of traditional downtown shopping.

While perhaps a magnet for the fifteen-odd-years of it’s success, City Center didn’t appear to do much for the businesses around it.  It didn’t even shore up enough business at the once acclaimed downtown Lazarus to keep it afloat.

Ten years ago there were dilapidated store fronts along High Street just as there are today.  From Broad north to Gay Street there was nothing of significance, although there was an Arby’s on the west side of the street.  From Gay north to Long one side of the street continues to garner no interest outside of a surface parking lot.

On the east side of the street Cafe Brioso started attracting a lunch crowd right around the time of City Center’s steep decline.  Cafe Brioso is perhaps the one pivotal business that brought about any positive change along downtowns portion of High Street prior to the razing of City Center.

We could also look back to Columubus’ land-use policy and determine that the City spent decades annexing unincorporated land, building out the utilities and thus creating long-term sprawl.  The City of Columbus could have spent that money investing in upgrading existing infrastructure which would have bolstered the health of center-city neighborhoods, keeping and attracting new residents.  Rather, the City let the inner city decay.

We could look at ODOT’s policy of neglecting public transit projects and instead funding the expansion of roadways and interchanges.  Combined with Columbus’ land use policies and inner city neglect its no wonder that retail development followed the population, leaving downtown behind.

But let’s look at what we have today for a moment.  Busses along High Street are only lined up along High Street during non-business hours.  The 9pm, 10pm, 11pm and 12am line-ups do line an entire block on either side of street.  For about 15 minutes.

Northbound busses line up in front of the State House and southbound busses line up on the west side of the High Street in front of COTA’s headquarters and adjacent to a small surface parking lot.  Once they depart, they spread out rather evenly.

Alleged bus congestion did nothing to inhibit pedestrians that joined the protests at the State House earlier in the year.  Bus traffic doesn’t appear to be a hinderance to retail vibrancy in the Short North either.

What hinders business downtown is the perceived lack of safety.  Empty blocks, blank street-level facades of Federal buildings and the deep set back such as the Nationwide campus do nothing to invite pedestrians.  Add in the crumbling plaster, dirty windows and mismatched efforts of 1970’s style “modernization” and High Street does indeed look unappealing.

In Chicago busses line the most magnificent shopping district in the mid-west – North Michigan Avenue.  Lots of busses and the extra-long flexible busses. So many busses that the bus stop signs are printed on all four sides of the post.  The same holds true on Chicago’s State Street in the Loop.

On Minneapolis’ downtown stretch of Nicolette Mall busses are the only traffic allowed.  They connect to the light-rail line.  Minneapolis’s Uptown shopping district is also lined with busses.  To claim that bus congestion is a deterrent to filling vacant [class C and below] retail space in downtown Columbus is ludicrous.

Essentially, there is nothing inhabitable left on High Street downtown.  And COTA busses are responsible for this?

If there’s a place to lay blame it can only be with the leadership of the City and the Columbus City Council.  Poor planning, lack of leadership, lack of vision, lack of investment and a misguided land use policy has left downtown Columbus in a shambles.

And somehow the folks at the Columbus Dispatch believe they have a say in what’s next?  Perhaps it should be noted that the decline in size and content of the Columbus Dispatch coincides with the decline of downtown Columbus.  So, yeah, I guess the Columbus Dispatch is influential.

 

 

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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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