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Two-way traffic expected to begin in next few weeks

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As Cummins Inc. nears the end of its construction work on a new downtown office building, Columbus residents will soon be able to drive on Jackson Street — a city street closed for more than four decades.

The stretch of Jackson Street between Third and Fourth streets was closed between October and November 1971, according to aerial photography in the Columbus City Engineer’s Office.

What was once a bustling, four-lane road that carried the traffic of U.S. 31 became a hallway in the former Commons Mall. At various times, the section of the mall boasted an Osco Drug store, the original location of the kidscommons, several restaurants including Peter’s Bay and Bistro 310, a pottery store and an arts theater that became Yes Cinema.

City Engineer David Hayward said the exact date of the reopening will depend on when Cummins finishes its work. But he says the street should reopen in the next few weeks.

Hayward has a meeting with the Cummins contractor this week to discuss the final details, but much of the work is complete. The city already has a stoplight in place at Jackson and Third streets; and all-way stop signs are at Jackson and Fourth streets, Hayward said. Sidewalks are already installed.

The street was rebuilt as part of The Commons project, but it has remained closed as Cummins built two new office buildings.

“Once the Cummins buildings started happening, they said they would need an area for staging, so we have kept it closed until now,” Hayward said. “And now it is time to get it open.”

Cummins will continue interior work on both of the Jackson Street office buildings, Hayward said. The city plans to allow Cummins to keep closed the parking spaces and sidewalks in front of its newest building, and there will be occasional street closures to move large equipment.

Despite that work, the city will be able to open Jackson Street to two-way traffic, and many of the other parking spaces will be available to the public, including those in front of Yes Cinema and Indiana University Center for Art and Design, Hayward said.

“The final paving won’t take place until spring. We can’t do that while the contractors are still moving things around,” he said.

The cold weather also stalled the striping of lanes on the street, Hayward said.

The front of Yes Cinema is shown with parallel parking on the street schematics, but Hayward said there is some discussion of whether the Cummins buildings will need that space during the day. Trucks will enter the loading dock area off Jackson Street, and the spaces may be restricted during some hours to allow for that traffic, he said.

“Certainly in the evenings that parking would be available and even part of the days,” Hayward said.

The new parking spaces on the street will have a three-hour limit, the same as other on-street parking locations in downtown Columbus.

Hayward said he does not think there will be much of a change in the amount of vehicle traffic on Jackson Street because of the reopening.

“I think it will improve some things,” he said. “Right now you kind of have to drive around blocks with the one-way streets. This will eliminate some of that and make connections a little bit more readily available downtown.”

Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center has owned Yes Cinema since 2004, when its front lobby opened into the hallway of The Commons Mall. Since then, it has been nearly nonstop construction nearby as the city built the parking garage across the street, split the former mall in half and built the new Commons less than a block away. Then construction started on the new Cummins office buildings, and most of last fall saw Fourth Street closed for renovations.

Randy Allman, executive director of the LCNFC, said he has mixed emotions on the long construction that unfolded outside the cinema’s front doors. On the one hand, he is happy to see all the development downtown.

“The big picture, of course, is what is best for Columbus and the people who live here,” Allman said. “Doing all of these things now is going to obviously present a brighter future for (downtown.)”

On the other hand, it has been tough for the nonprofit to operate the cinema and cafe because of the steady pace of construction. Allman said the staff joked about changing the name to “Construction Theater.”

“For us personally it has been really tough, because a lot of the customers who come to Yes Cinema are older folks who love older films, and they don’t want to have to hassle with parking,” Allman said. “It has been a trial, to say the least, for us.”

Yes Cinema regularly surveys its customers, and the construction zone has been difficult for them as well.

“The two things we hear the most are the lack of parking and the ongoing construction,” Allman said. “They wanted to stay away from it.”

The endless construction also led to increased business expenses for the theater, such as the need to clean the windows more frequently and the extra cleaning of the lobby because of the dirt and debris in the air, Allman said.

But soon, that will be a memory, just like the community building that once blocked Jackson Street.

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