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Mayor Coleman Celebrates and Reflects in Final State of the City Address

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea Mayor Coleman Celebrates and Reflects in Final State of the City Address
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Mayor Michael Coleman’s final State of the City address was more celebration than speech Thursday night. Attendees of the address at the Palace Theater were treated to performances by the Harmony Project, a video of the mayor’s most serious and lighthearted moments from the past 16 years and introductions by Angela Pace of WBNS-TV and by Coleman’s Chief of Staff Mike Reese.

For a little more than half an hour, Coleman and Pace sat on a stage fit for a TV interview and reflected on the accomplishments and challenges of a man whose obvious delight at being mayor was on full display.

“The state of our city is strong,” declared Coleman.  “I have been the mayor through every economic cycle that exists. The good times, the bad times, the worst times, the dark times, the joyous times, the hard times, and I feel like our city is a renaissance.”

The mayor celebrated the creation of new jobs, the low unemployment rate, the decline in violent crime and the increase in population; “11, 10, 12, 15 percent – all right, let’s to a Colemanism: It’s up 30 percent!” The Mayor predicted that five years from now, Columbus would be a city of a million people.

Coleman described his administration as one that focused primarily on three goals. The first was to bring attention to neglected neighborhoods and revitalize places like the King Lincoln District, South Linden, Franklinton and others. The second was to establish more partnerships between the city and the private sector to accomplish large-scale projects. The third was to increase the inclusion of LGBT people, new Americans, minorities and people of different faiths in city business.

When asked what he planned to accomplish in his final ten months as mayor, Coleman laid out a few key initiatives, starting with the Scioto Greenways project, which he called a “city-changing effort.”

A primary part of the project involves narrowing the river, which Coleman said is about two football fields wide, in order to build more park land. The effort is also intended to make the river deep enough for fishing and boating.

“That’s the city’s recreation area, for everybody,” said Coleman. “This is where we gather as a community. Every neighborhood, every person, everybody, every family can go right down on that riverfront and enjoy it.”

Coleman said he intends for the Scioto Greenways to be finished before he leaves office.

The Mayor also elaborated on his announcement Thursday morning of a new direct flight between Columbus and the San Francisco Bay Area with Southwest Airlines. Coleman said the direct connection with the West Coast will be a “pipeline of investment and opportunities from Silicon Valley to the best city in America.” The Mayor called on the business community to “fill those seats” and take advantage of the opportunity presented by the direct flight.

On the issue of affordable housing, Coleman spoke on the necessity of people being able to “live where they work” which is often impossible with Downtown rental prices. The Mayor announced a housing work incentive of about $2 million for Connect Realty to build 34 affordable units at Long and Front Streets.

“We don’t want folks who have to work Downtown and live in the suburbs where they can afford to live,” said Coleman. “They can live right here in Downtown.”

Mayor Coleman also highlighted the recent announcement that Rogue Fitness is moving their corporate headquarters to the vacant Timken site in Milo-Grogan, bringing 350 new jobs to the neighborhood.

The Mayor spoke on the need to expand Columbus’ sister cities across the world, and said that, “as the first African-American mayor, I cannot leave this spot without having a city in Africa.” He announced that Accra, the capital of Ghana, would be Columbus’ newest sister city. Coleman said Accra was chosen in part because it’s a primary destination for many people living in Columbus and called for people to build stronger relationships in Africa.

Mayor Coleman answered one question from Twitter during the event, asking what advice he would give his successor for improving Columbus neighborhoods. The Mayor said his primary piece of advice would be to go out and listen.

“Go out to the community and actually have a dialogue, have a conversation,” said Coleman. He spoke on his Neighborhood Pride initiative, which held about 90 town hall meetings during his time in office.

“Some of those meetings are tough,” said Coleman. “Residents want it to get done, and done now, and you have to stand up there, you have to take it, you’ve got to listen, you’ve got to respond, and shape your ideas based upon what you’ve heard.”

Coleman said of all the projects, initiatives and organizations he spearheaded as mayor, his proudest achievement has been the Restoration Academy, a six-month “boot camp” established in 2012 for people just out of prison. Coleman said the program gives former inmates confidents and skills to return to society by having them work on city service projects.

“I’d like the private sector to hire more people who have made mistakes,” said Coleman.

The Mayor said his biggest challenges in office included two major recessions and the attacks of September 11, 2001, when he and other city officials didn’t know whether or not Columbus would be targeted. He talked about how the city came “close to catastrophe” in 2008 when he had to decide between an income tax increase and cutting vital city services.

The Mayor repeated his often-invoked call for Columbus to be unafraid of change, maintaining that, “A city that stays the same falls behind.” When asked about his future plans, Coleman let loose his sense of humor.

“I’m gonna get an earring and a tattoo,” said the Mayor of Ohio’s capital. “I’m gonna put my tattoo someplace to show my enemies one day.”

Coleman continued on more serious notes, talking about the need for increased focus on education, building partnerships between the city, school board, the business community and the civic community, and the necessity of a light rail system in Columbus.

The actual prepared address lasted no more than a few minutes and in it Coleman highlighted the changes Columbus has gone through since he took office, in economics, population and development.

“Our most profound transformation is in our attitude, our confidence and our purpose,” said Coleman. “It’s what I call ‘swagger.’”

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