Groundwork is being laid for a new transformative effort on the Near East Side that aims to breath new life into these near-Downtown communities. PACT (short for Partners Achieving Community Transformation) is a group of area stakeholders, residents and other community members who have spent the past two years putting together a plan to help revitalize key corners and corridors with new retail clusters, walkable streets and residential housing for everyone from students to families to senior citizens.
We spoke recently with PACT Project Manager Autumn Williams to find out more about where the effort currently stands and what type of participation can be expected the upcoming public input meeting on November 27th.
Walker Evans: The original revitalization announcement in February 2010 that would eventually go on to form PACT has been nearly three years in the making. What has changed between that first investment announcement and today?
Autumn Williams: Since the original announcement, we’ve gone forward with the original vision. Pretty much everything we said we were originally going to do. We’ve formed community stakeholder groups and advisory committees and we’ve talked to around 200 people involved over the past two years. We also had the original intent of hiring a master planning consultant, which we did with Goody Clancy in March of this year. We brought them on board after we already had 18 months of community engagement going.So that’s what we’ve been working on for the past 24 months since the first announcement was made.
Q: From what I’ve seen of the plans so far, it seems like a lot of what is outlined is residential-centric and retail-centric. Is that something that emerged from the public input sessions?
AW: Yes. The community is already primarily residential, so I think that the community is saying that they want to see more residential. That reflects their desire to see more people and families coming into the neighborhood. This is a community of very engaged stakeholders, so they recognized that the location is prime to attract families, young professionals and students. So yes, residential has been a top priority. The retail side has come up because that’s part of the history and legacy of this community. Mt Vernon Avenue and Long Street historically were this huge vibrant commercial district of locally owned business and restaurants that were really flourishing in the community. So I think that part of that retail history rose to the top as one of the type of amenities for families that live here as well as the new people they want to attract to the community.
WE: From what I’ve seen of renderings, proposals and ideas at this stage, it seems like the focus for development plans targets three main areas: Taylor Avenue, the Mount Vernon Avenue & Long Street Corridors and Poindexter Village. How were these three areas identified for redevelopment?
AW: The areas you mention are currently being referred to as core development areas. These areas emerged during the three-day July Workshop and are based on the feedback we received from the community as well as from the stakeholder interviews and subcommittee reports. A majority of proposed initiatives and recommendations were occurring within these areas, and it became a helpful framework as we organized the October workshops.
WE: With other urban redevelopment plans either in the works or in motion in Weinland Park, East Franklinton, Downtown Columbus, the Scioto Peninsula and elsewhere, what stands out as being different about these processes taking place for the Near East Side and the King Lincoln District?
AW: I think the difference is in the history. Not to say that those other neighborhoods aren’t looking back at what was there before, but that really is a core value in the way that we’re working on this planning process. The other thing is that this community has some significant African American history for Columbus. So that’s different from those other communities. We also have OSU as an anchor institution in our neighborhood, but so does Weinland Park with the main campus, and the south side has Nationwide Children’s Hospital. So I don’t know if I would say that this area is a whole lot different. There’s a national trend for urban redevelopment and Columbus is on the cutting edge of doing that in many ways across the city. I would consider those other neighborhoods in Columbus to be our sisters and brothers.
WE: What sort of care is being taken to preserve the historic nature of these areas, through architecture, culture, people and places?
AW: Going back to retail as an example… we could have just said that since the OSU East Hospital is on Taylor Avenue, we should just put a bunch of retail there. But historically the retail in this area has been around the Lincoln Theatre and the Mount Vernon Plaza areas, so we want to go back to that. We want to figure out how we can support the businesses that have stayed and help elevate them so that they can continue to compete and be sustainable while also attracting more amenities and businesses into those areas. So that’s one thing.
Another thing we have noticed during community engagement are the descriptions of what this community feels like. Some of that stuff is kind of hard to quantify or describe, but we really heard loud and clear that people who live here want the area to continue to feel like a community. So we’re looking at urban design principles that we can incorporate that would make it more likely for the neighborhood to interact. Making opportunities for people to be on the street, adding front porches to new homes, and keeping that character. The Near East Area Plan was just completed a few years ago, and that already goes a long way toward setting building standards and expectations. So we’re looking at things that would fit in to the traditional style of housing here and talking about how to attract people to invest in the existing buildings and properties here.
WE: Speaking of attracting new residents to invest… what type of balance do you think will need to be found between public and private partners for these redevelopment efforts?
AW: The balance between public and private partners will vary depending on each initiative, but it is clear that both will be necessary for successful implementation. For example, OSU has committed $10 million ($9 million for housing initiatives and $1 million for health & wellness initiatives). To create a larger impact on neighborhood revitalization, they plan to partner with and leverage substantial additional funding from the private sector. Likewise, CMHA will likely move forward with the submittal of a Choice Neighborhood implementation grant, which has the potential to receive up to $30 million of public, HUD funding. To be successful however, CMHA will have to demonstrate how they have been able to secure additional funding through other key partners.
WE: So, what type of participation can attendees expect to be involved with at the upcoming public meeting on the 27th?
AW: The meeting on the 27th is being designed as an open house. There will be a brief (20-25 minute) presentation that highlights the planning process, key events, and revised project timeline. We have completed a draft of a series of implementation initiatives, and these will be highlighted on a series of boards. The appropriate members of the consultant team will be present to discuss these initiatives, and the public will have the opportunity to provide input on the priority of these initiatives and add comments directly to the boards.
WE: What is the planned timeline for adopting a development plan and potential for implementation efforts?
AW: The current timeline for the plan, which is similar to the original proposed schedule, is:
January 2013: Draft Plan due.
Early February: Public presentation of draft plan. Initiation of public comment.
Late February : Public comment period closes.
Early March: Final plan to be completed.
WE: Thanks for taking the time today, Autumn.
AW: My pleasure.
More information can be found online at www.eastpact.org.