The future of Columbus looks bright following a successful 2017 that resulted in job growth, a strong local economy and several city projects that will continue this year.

Those accomplishments were among points highlighted during Mayor Jim Lienhoop’s State of the City address Thursday at The Commons, which drew an estimated crowd of nearly 300 people.

Lienhoop, making his third State of the City address, touched on the city’s Columbus Riverfront project, the Exhibit Columbus symposium and installations, and a new Indiana University master’s degree program in architecture that will be based in Columbus and starts this fall.

The first-term mayor, elected in 2015, also highlighted the city’s railroad overpass project at the State Road 46/State Road 11 intersection that is expected to begin in 2019. The $30 million overpass is being constructed to deal with a projected increase in train traffic through Columbus.

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The state has agreed to pick up $15 million of the cost, while other partners also have chipped in — including the city, Bartholomew County, Cummins Inc., and the Louisville & Indiana and CSX railroads. This fall, the railroad is expected to run longer, faster and heavier trains through the city that will impact motorists, Lienhoop said.

“We’ve been given a taste of what that will mean for morning and afternoon commutes, but we’ve yet to see the full implementation of this activity,” Lienhoop said.

Lienhoop said progress is being made on the project, joking that it remains “on track,” as work is underway on a roadway alignment. Right-of-way acquisitions are among next steps for the railroad overpass project, he said.

Columbus also remains focused on working with other partners and planning for the future, Lienhoop said.

“In 2038, what will we wished we had done in 2018?” Lienhoop asked those in attendance.

City spiff-up

Lienhoop said improving the overall appearance of the city has been a focus as nine homes were demolished under the city’s blight-elimination program, while 21 inoperable or abandoned vehicles have been identified since October. Owners of the vehicles, which were towed, received scrap money for them, said Fred Barnett, city code enforcement officer.

Lienhoop said voluntary compliance increased under changes approved by Columbus City Council in September that gave Barnett the authority to investigate complaints of abandoned vehicles on private property and to issue fines.

“We’ve been able to move forward to clean up (the city),” Lienhoop said.

Lienhoop also used the opportunity to highlight growth of companies in Columbus, noting that in 2017, the city received and approved six tax abatement requests. However, some of those abatements haven’t taken effect since some projects did not receive state credits, said Robin Hilber, community development programs coordinator with the city.

This year, the number of abatement stands at three so far, approved by Columbus City Council in February, he said.

Among other economic developments in 2017 cited by Lienhoop were plans by Cummins Inc. to embark on a $50 million renovation of its worldwide headquarters in Columbus and AXISCADES, a company from Bangalore, India, selecting the city as its North American headquarters.

Still, Lienhoop said that as the city grows, it must identify and adapt to changes as they occur.

“The plan we make today will determine who lives here tomorrow,” he said. “What we do today shapes our future.”

He used his speech to make a statement that Columbus will continue to remain a welcoming community for all people, a point that drew applause from audience members. Members from the Traditionalist Worker Party, a white nationalist group, conducted a practice march on Washington Street in September.

“This city will never be home to hate or racism,” Lienhoop said. “This will remain the Columbus Way.”

Key points of Lienhoop speech

City projects

  • Progress has been made on the railroad overpass project at the State Road 46/State Road 11 intersection
  • The Columbus Riverfront project, when it’s completed, will bring more people to the area
  • City has torn down nine homes under its blight-elimination program, while 21 abandoned/inoperable vehicles have been towed since October.

Job/economic growth

  • City saw six tax abatement requests in 2017; three have been received so far this year.
  • Cummins Inc. announces $50 million renovation of its global headquarters in 2017, while Bangalore, India-based AXISCADES selects Columbus as its North American headquarters.

Education/Workforce development

  • Columbus has awarded $750,000 over the past three years to the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. to prepare youths for careers in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.
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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or