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Editorial; State Street has potential as second front door

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IT took millions of dollars from both the public and private sectors to revitalize Columbus’ downtown district.

Most observers would agree that it was money well spent, especially when taking into account the significant increase in people traffic and the development of businesses, restaurants, apartment complexes and entertainment venues that promise to add to that traffic.

Similar visions of revitalization are being explored in another part of the city, one that has been treated as something of a stepchild to other established neighborhoods.

City officials are taking a new look at beautifying and revamping the State Street corridor, which serves as one of the entry points into Columbus.

Officials have contacted 10 consulting firms with the intention of selecting one that would create a plan for improving the area. It’s what happens after that plan is presented that will determine whether and how much the area can be improved.

State Street is the main street of East Columbus, an area that was annexed into the city in 1948. This is not the first time an effort has been mounted to explore ways in which the area or sections of it could be improved.

The city conducted a study in 2003 known as the State Street Corridor Revitalization Plan. Although it was not directly related to that 2003 study, State Street did undergo a major reconstruction in 2008 and 2009. The street was widened and repaved, and a center turn lane, modern street signals, sidewalks, curbs, gutters and storm pipes were installed.

While important, the work on the street itself — which was funded by the state as part of an improvement of Indiana 46 — had little measurable impact on changing the look or usability of the district. Hopes by residents of the area that it could be transformed into a town center replete with restaurants, additional small businesses and improved housing never were realized.

In some respects, East Columbus residents have had to wait their turn for neighborhood improvements while other areas of the city have been renewed.

The downtown revitalization was preceded by the massive Front Door project of the 1990s that transformed a mundane entryway into the city into a thriving and welcoming corridor beginning at the Interstate 65 interchange and ending on the majestic Second Street bridge.

That project was made possible by a massive infusion of federal, state and local dollars.

It is obviously too early to project what will be contained in a study of the State Street corridor. For instance, many residents of the area believe that sidewalks on the streets feeding into State Street not only would improve appearances but provide a measure of safety for those who have to walk through yards or in the street to get from one place to another.

Whatever steps are envisioned, it is likely that any significant improvement will come with a large price tag. Although private sector participation will be critical, it is likely that public sector funding will have to be employed as well. How that money will be generated on a local level can become a contentious issue. One possibility would be to either create a new TIF (tax increment financing) district for the area or extend the Central TIF district.

The bottom line is that improvements will come at a price. If the Front Door project and the downtown revitalization serve as examples, it could be an investment that pays dividends long into the future.

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