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A great street, city explores ways to make State Street

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City officials are exploring possibilities for beautifying and revamping State Street, which serves as the southeastern gateway into Columbus.

The street touches commercial and industrial properties and connects to nearby neighborhoods and a high school. New ideas that have been floated for the gateway include ethnic restaurants, living and working spaces for artists and more People Trails connections.

“We are going into this with open minds of what should be done,” Mayor Kristen Brown said.

A study is planned for the stretch that starts east of Repp Drive and runs west past Central Avenue onto Second Street, where it intersects with Volmer Street.

Brown said that, during her mayoral campaign last year and after taking office this year, she heard comments from people who wanted improvements to State Street. City Council member Dascal Bunch, who represents that section of the city, generally referred to as East Columbus, said he also has heard general comments for improvements.

Those comments spurred the city’s decision to study the issue further and see what opportunities existed.

The idea is not to turn State Street into a similar version of State Road 46 West, Brown said. The building of restaurants, retail stores and hotels there was done on undeveloped agricultural land. State Street runs through an established area of the city.

“I would hope for something a little more unique and special to the identity to this part of town,” Brown said.

The city contacted 10 consulting firms in early November, providing requests for proposals to study the State Street corridor. Columbus-Bartholomew County Planning Director Jeff Bergman said the city received nine proposals back. Four have been identified as finalists, and they will be interviewed Monday, after which one will be chosen.

Cost of the study is estimated at $60,000, Bergman said. The target date for finishing the study would be midyear, he added. However, implementation of recommendations could take years or a decade, Brown said.

Street improved earlier

The city conducted a similar study in 2003, called the State Street Corridor Revitalization Plan. Bartholomew County Commissioner Paul Franke said Priscilla Scalf, director of Eastside Community Center, asked the county about helping fund a study of State Street, in part because it owns several pieces of property there. Eventually the city became part of the study process.

Franke said the study addressed a basic issue: “As far as gateways go, are we presenting the best of what Columbus has to offer?”

The consensus was that State Street did not and needed improvements.

Among the study’s recommendations was a town center concept for State Street from Gladstone Avenue to Mapleton Street, to make that area a center of civic, residential and commercial activity.

As the study got off the ground, Scalf recalled people saying at public meetings that they wanted restaurants, small businesses, housing and places to walk to along State Street.

State Street was improved in 2008 and 2009 with $4.6 million in state funds, because State Street is part of State Road 46 that runs through Columbus. The street was widened and repaved, and a center turn lane, modern street signals, sidewalks, curbs, gutters and storm pipes were installed.

However, recommendations in the revitalization plan never came to fruition.

“At the time, the priority was the downtown and getting that revitalized, because it is the center of the city,” Scalf said.

Now that downtown has undergone a lot of changes and improvements, several stakeholders believe a revitalized State Street would help entry into downtown.

“I’m excited to know Mayor Brown is embracing the State Street concept,” Scalf said.

Changes in the city, such as downtown redevelopment, and to its demographics since the previous plan make having an updated study important, the mayor said.

Maximizing assets

The State Street area is home to Indian and Hispanic populations, so considering ideas that account for the diverse population would fit into the city’s efforts to be a welcoming and diverse community, Brown said.

Also, she said the State Street Corridor Project fits in with her administration’s strategic priorities of making Columbus a safe and healthy community, providing housing opportunities for all, diversifying the city’s economy and making Columbus a cultural and creative community.

“We want to make (State Street) attractive enough to get businesses to come there,” Bunch said.

The State Street corridor needs to become more accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists, Brown said. The area needs more connections to the People Trails, Bunch added.

State Street could complement the city’s growing arts district by creating places for artists to live and work, which could help State Street become a creative corridor, Brown said.

The cost of living along State Street would be less expensive than downtown, she added. Because the city has a need for more affordable housing, State Street could represent an opportunity for building apartments.

State Street has a number of assets that could be maximized, Scalf said. For example, industrial and technology companies are located by South Marr Road, creating somewhat of an industrial park.

Josh Ritter, who has owned JR Auto Advantage at 2500 State St. since 2007, said he’d like to see more lighting and fast-food restaurants. The lighting would serve beautification and safety purposes, he said. And he believes there’s enough businesses along State Street that their employees would support more restaurants.

Ritter added that he’d like to see more business owners invest in improvements to their properties. Ritter noted that he recently had new siding put on the office of his used-car business. He wondered if any incentives from the city, such as tax breaks, could help business owners make improvements.

The study doesn’t mean the city is going to buy a bunch of properties to redevelop them, Brown said. Rather, it will help identify opportunities for private developers.

County plays role

How improvements to the corridor could be paid for is something the chosen consulting firm will help identify, the mayor said. That could include grants, public-private partnerships or even tax-increment financing district funds. State Street is not located within one of the city’s TIF districts, so either the Central TIF would have to be expanded or a new one would have to be created, Brown said.

Bartholomew County has a vested interest in this project, too, because it owns two important properties along State Street: the county highway garage and county annex. The annex is old and outdated, and the Bartholomew County Commissioners are considering what to do with the property and what to do with the services located there.

Bartholomew County Commissioner Carl Lienhoop and Franke said the county is open to possibilities for the properties, but selling just to get some money isn’t a high priority.

The annex site could host a new building for county services if the old one were torn down, Lienhoop said.

Franke said any new development there would need to be something that enhances the neighborhood.

Creating a steering committee is one of the next steps for the project, Brown said. It would work with the consultant on generating feedback and ideas.

Having State Street business owners involved in the process is critical, Bunch said.

Bergman stressed that the city would want to make sure that the results of the study are adopted as part of the city’s comprehensive plan.

State Street project criteria

Columbus is planning to hire a consulting firm to study State Street, which is the southeastern gateway into the city, and make recommendations for beautifying and revitalizing that part of the community.

The city wants the study to:

  • Identify and make recommendations for critical properties.
  • Identify redevelopment opportunities.
  • Recommend streetscape and aesthetic improvements.
  • Recommend transportation improvements.
  • Recommend ways to eliminate barriers to redevelopment.
  • Recommend changes for zoning ordinances or regulations or policies to support redevelopment.
  • Recommend financing options.
  • Source: Columbus-Bartholomew County Planning Department

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