Columbus city officials plan to invest more than $20 million into Hamilton Road on Columbus’s southeast side. The project aims to boost business investments and rejuvenate a long-overlooked commercial area between I-70 and Refugee Road.
WOSU's Debbie Holmes talks to Ava Johnson, head of the Greater South East Area Commission, and Quay Barnes, head of the Mid-East Area Community Collaboration, about their plans and hopes for the project.
The below is an automated transcript. Please excuse minor typos and errors.
Debbie Holmes: Now you both are committed to seeing some positive changes on Hamilton Road. It's been in decline, with more businesses leaving and deteriorating roadways, and also crime increasing. Eastland Mall had been a great attraction for maybe about three decades, from the late 1960s until somewhere in the late '90s, and then things started to change. Can you describe what happened, Ava?
Ava Johnson: What we've seen is, with some of our suburban areas and communities and municipalities, with them growing is taking a toll on our area. So some of the businesses that used to be in our area have moved to like areas like Reynoldsburg or Polaris, and some of the residents have followed those areas.
Debbie Holmes: So Quay, you lead efforts on the west side of Hamilton Road. What do you think can happen now? The city has started to talk about improvement plans.
Quay Barnes: Well, we're very happy that the city has taken the initiative to do infrastructure work, in terms of sidewalks, curbs, drainage, service roads. All of these things and lighting - in particular lighting - all of these things will make Hamilton Road, even in their in their view, a new place to be. It will give it a brighter look, hopefully it will attract businesses and investors, and that's what we're looking forward to right now within the next year.
Debbie Holmes: What kind of investors would you like to see here? What kind of businesses?
Quay Barnes: You know, we've gotten past the thought of having a traditional mall anymore. So we're thinking more mixed-use. Could be office buildings, it could be, in fact one we're talking about now is having a cooperative businesses, we're talking about housing, education, training, something that draws all people.
Debbie Holmes: Do you like what's been done on Morse Road?
Quay Barnes: Morse Road is our example, I think. Again, a dying mall, that the city came in, improvements were made on the road and then investors came. And all of those things that I mentioned before - office buildings and mixed use of housing and some retail - all of that has happened on Morse Road and now it's thriving.
Debbie Holmes: Ava Johnson, you're in charge of the east side of Hamilton Road and bringing in some ideas here, so what would you like to see on this part of Hamilton Road?
Ava Johnson: Debbie, I definitely agree with what Quay has said in the past, that there needs to be some changes, and what we would like to see is a business model change. The retail businesses that used to be on the eastern side of the Hamilton Road may not be profitable anymore. So we don't want to see businesses come up and be developed and fail.
But I'm looking out the window, and our area commission plasts the zoning plan at a Tim Horton's. So I think we need to look at, what do the consumers want in this area, what are they willing to purchase? Coffee, things that people can get in and out. Traffic is very busy on South Hamilton Road, so we've got to take that into consideration also.
So we're open for ideas, you know. I think one of the things Quay and I have, we understand with our task force, is that we got to think outside the box. What used to work may not work. So we're interested in ideas and what people have, but we want the businesses to be profitable.
But I'm also concerned that we need some social service agencies, such as a recreation center. We have hundreds and hundreds of apartments that are saturated with residents, but there's nothing for the young teens to do.