City Council gives final approval to reroute State Street redevelopment project

An amended plan to add a bicycle and pedestrian trail along Fifth Street leading into Mill Race Park as part of the State Street Revitalization Project has received approval but not without reservations from one member of the Columbus City Council.

City redevelopment director Heather Pope brought a request before the council on Tuesday to amend the city’s contract with United Consulting, Indianapolis, from about $717,000 to an amount not to exceed $896,104.

The State Street project falls under the jurisdiction of the Columbus Redevelopment Commission, which approved the contract amendment last month, but all redevelopment projects exceeding $500,000 must also receive city council approval. The State Street project is being funded through tax increment financing dollars.

The amended contract eliminates Phase Three of the State Street project, which would have added side paths for bicyclists and pedestrians along Third Street, and instead include the design and engineering costs of developing an urban trail from Mill Race Park back down to State Street by way of Fifth and California streets.

The contract increase would also cover the cost of finishing some of the work that has already begun along State Street.

Pope said the change in the project’s direction came at the suggestion of Dave Hayward, executive director of public works/city engineer, who thought creating a trail down Fifth Street would be a better way to highlight some of the city’s highly recognized architecture.

Additionally, creating a connection between the Mill Race and State Street areas is already included in the city’s bicycle and pedestrian plan, Pope said.

Julie Aton, a member of the State Street Area Association and a vocal supporter of the State Street project, said she thinks creating a path down Fifth Street will be a safer alternative than a Third Street path for cyclists and walkers trying to travel between the east and west sides of the city.

Similarly, local resident Ricky Berkey said he thinks having a connection between State Street and Mill Race will help to blur the lines between Columbus and the former East Columbus.

However, councilman Frank Miller said he had some concerns about how the city is choosing to allocate its TIF funds, which ultimately led to him being the lone “no” vote against the proposed contract amendment.

During the council meeting, Miller asked Pope and Hayward if the portion of the Hawcreek Trail that was recently extended under the State Street bridge over to Lafayette Avenue would eventually be extended to connect to Mill Race Park.

Hayward said that connection would likely happen in the future but would be planned as part of the Riverwalk Project, another project of the redevelopment commission.

Pope said the idea of eventually having two trails running into Mill Race Park is to give bikers and pedestrians on both sides of the city different options for which route they want to take.

After the council meeting, Miller said having two trail options would be nice if money were no object, but in this situation money is an object.

Miller said spending nearly $900,000 on the design and engineering steps of the Fifth Street trail seemed expensive, especially considering that the city will also eventually have to allocate money for the trail’s actual construction.

The councilman said he fully supports the State Street Revitalization Plan and even said that he never thought adding a trail along Third Street was a good idea. However, he also said the city needs to think more long-term and do a better job of connecting the dots of its various projects to determine how taxpayer dollars should best be spent.

In addition to the State Street project, the redevelopment commission is also juggling the Riverwalk and Walesboro development projects, among others. Each of those ventures will require TIF funding, so Miller said the city should think two or three steps ahead on each project to determine how much TIF money can be spent on each.

Although each of the redevelopment projects would be beneficial to the city, Miller said he feels a responsibility to city residents to make good use of their tax dollars. He said he thinks taxpayers might not see a good reason to use their money to construct two trails leading to the same point.

The contract amendment was originally scheduled for a vote on first reading on Tuesday, but councilman Tim Shuffett made a motion to suspend the rules to allow the council to give final approval to the resolution with only one vote. With Miller as the only vote against the proposal, the resolution passed 6-1.

About the project update

An original plan to construct side paths along Central Avenue/Third Street up to California Street as part of the State Street Revitalization Project has been changed. Instead, an urban path beginning at Mill Race Park on the city’s west side will be built along Fifth Street and then turn onto California Street, providing a connection to State Street and the city’s east side.

Heather Pope, Columbus redevelopment director, said the idea of the Fifth Street trail is to highlight some of the city’s highly recognized architecture, such as First Christian Church, the Bartholomew County Public Library and the Cummins, Inc. corporate office building.

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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.