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Mayoral Election 2011: Interview with Michael B. Coleman

Walker Evans Walker Evans Mayoral Election 2011: Interview with Michael B. Coleman
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Michael B. Coleman has served the City of Columbus as Mayor since the year 2000, and is currently running for his fourth term. Coleman’s supporters are often quick to point to his leadership on redevelopment projects such as the effort focused on revitalizing Downtown, his willingness to invest in improvements in urban neighborhoods, and his enthusiasm for making Columbus a more bike-friendly city. Opponents point out the budget shortfalls at City Hall that led to an income tax increase in 2009, and the financial overruns on certain infrastructure investment projects such as the new Main Street Bridge.

Below are Michael B. Coleman’s answers to 15 interview questions that specifically address the concerns of Columbus Underground readers:

To view Earl W. Smith’s responses to these questions, click here.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your personal, professional, and political background?

A: I was born on November 18, 1954. I have three children, Kimberly, a private banker in Chicago; Justin, a Columbus police officer; and John-David, a graduate of The Ohio State University. I served as president of Columbus City Council from January of 1997 to November of 1999, and as a council member from February of 1992 to December of 1999. I graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 1977 with a degree in Political Science and earned my law degree from the University of Dayton Law School in 1980. I was first elected mayor in 1999, re-elected in 2003 and won a third term in November 2007.

Q: What drove you to run for Mayor, and what are your primary areas of interest when it comes to Columbus issues?

A: I love the City of Columbus, I love the people of Columbus, and I’m excited about how far we’ve come and how far we can go as a city. My top priorities have been and remain job creation, public safety, and neighborhood improvements and revitalization.

Q: The topic of economic development is a hot issue in Central Ohio, with renewed emphasis through the Columbus 2020 program. How do you specifically define “economic development” and what specific types of programs will help the regional economy grow over the next five to ten years?

A: We will continue our aggressive economic development efforts to attract new businesses. As a founding member of the board of Columbus 2020 we have set a goal of 150,000 jobs and a 30 percent increase in per capita income by 2020. But the most important thing we do to attract jobs is protect our strong quality of life. This is why we have received national recognition this year as one of the best cities for jobs from Bloomberg Businessweek (one of the 20th strongest economies coming out of the recession, the 9th best city for college grads); from Forbes (the No. 12 Next Boomtown, No. 9 “brain magnet”); from NewGeography.com (best city in the Midwest for job growth); from Fox News (third best city for College Grads). Further during my terms as mayor, we have been responsible for approximately 35,000 jobs created and more than 57,000 jobs retained, which has led to the lowest unemployment rate among big cities in the state.

Q: Downtown Columbus has grown residentially and commercially over the past 10 years, due to public investment and a renewed national focus on urban living. What further needs to be done from a public policy level to continue the growth of the core of our city?

A: We need to continue our policies that have reduced office vacancies, increased residents and transformed Downtown into a vibrant, walkable urban neighborhood. During my tenure, Downtown has received $1.6 billion in new investment, 2,727 new jobs with an estimated $213 million in payroll, resulting in $4.2 million in city income tax. A total of 5,500 new housing units have been constructed or are under construction and Downtown is home to 5,600 new residents. We opened North Bank Park, the Scioto Mile–the City’s signature park with over $44 million in private and public investment—and Columbus Commons in place of the vacant and abandoned former City Center mall. The 500-room Hilton Columbus Downtown Convention Hotel will open in 2012, bringing millions into the local economy through visitors and conventions. We converted Gay Street and Front Street to two-way, allowing for economic development on Gay and the completion of RiverSouth projects such as the Lifestyle project, Scioto Mile and the new Franklin County Courthouse. We have decreased the Downtown office vacancy rate to 11 percent from 24.3 percent in 2002.

Q: A common anecdotal complaint about local government centers on a lack of adequate city services: unplowed streets, lack of curb-side recycling, potholes, too few proactive police patrols, et cetera. Is this a funding issue, a geographic issue, or something else entirely?

A: We actually receive many compliments from our residents for our delivery of basic neighborhood services all year round. Residents with questions or complaints about our delivery of neighborhood services are encouraged to call our 311 service line so that we fix any problems or address any oversight. As for curbside recycling, we will have a comprehensive curbside recycling program beginning in 2012.

Q: It’s practically a daily occurrence that a national publication produces an article on the growing importance of public transportation networks to young professionals and the Millennial generation. Does our lack of rail transit hurt our ability to attract young talent to our region, and if so, what needs to be done to address this issue?

A: I have always been a strong advocate for rail in the City of Columbus and will continue to advocate for a regional light rail system and other public transit options as long as I am mayor. Having said that, we are consistently recognized as one of the best cities in the country for young professionals. As I stated earlier, Bloomberg Businessweek calls us the 9th best city for college grads; Forbes says Columbus is the No. 9 “brain magnet”; and Fox News says we’re third best city in America for college graduates.

Q: Small businesses are the cornerstone of our economy. What are the biggest challenges that our small business community currently faces, and what would you do differently to address those challenges?

A: I have always placed a significant importance on small business because small business creates the jobs that are the lifeblood of our economy and every one of our major private sector employers started off as a small business.  That is why the City has provided funding to support micro financing and working capital loans. We work with community partners (Columbus Chamber, Small Business Development Council, Central Ohio Minority Association, etc) to develop an environment where small businesses can develop and grow within our neighborhoods. We also have within city government the Equal Business Opportunity Commission to promote the inclusion of minority and female owned small businesses in the city’s purchasing and procurement process. The community’s initiative to retain the young talent in Columbus at our many colleges and universities is important because they will become the skilled workforce that are small businesses need to grow and succeed.

Q: Several years ago, Columbus was ranked the No. 1 “Up & Coming Tech City” in the country. What role does Columbus city government play in continuing to support our technology-friendly environment from a city services perspective?

A: I have led the City’s efforts to help maintain our position as a leading tech community.  We have strengthened our relationship with Battelle and Ohio State, and continue to encourage those entities to take their research and commercialize it so it results in new jobs and investment. The City has invested over $1 million in Tech Columbus over the past 5 years, resulting in successful business development and new jobs. To improve the City infrastructure and competitiveness the City has invested in a fiber optic system that covers a significant portion of the community.

Q: The recent announcement that the City of Columbus and Franklin County would be purchasing Nationwide Arena has quickly become a hotly discussed topic. What is your personal stance on this issue, and why is it a good/bad deal for taxpayers and a good/bad deal for the region?

A: I strongly support this deal. Protecting the thousands of jobs in the Arena District is the right thing to do, particularly at a time when employment opportunities are at a premium.

Q: A portion of the revenue from the Columbus Hollywood Casino is being earmarked for the purchase of Nationwide Arena. Where else should the Casino revenue be spent, and what percentage should be earmarked for redevelopment of West Side neighborhoods surrounding the Casino?

A: The remainder of the Casino dollars should be placed in the General Operating Fund to fund basic neighborhood services such as police, fire and code enforcement. As for the West Side neighborhoods surrounding the casino, the city and Penn National have both agreed to contribute $2.5 million each for a total of $5 million dollars over four years in the surrounding neighborhood. The dollars will be used for economic development, job training for West Side residents, minority and small business outreach, additional infrastructure needs, and support of West Side charitable and civic organizations.

Q: According to an article published in April by USA Today, the inner core of Columbus (defined as a 3-mile radius from the center of Downtown) saw 45 percent growth in the number of 20 to 40-year-old residents, a faster growth rate than the rest of the region as a whole. In the years ahead, as these young professionals look to buy homes, have children, and further invest in their community, what specifically needs to be addressed to keep them engaged in central-city neighborhoods?

A: We need to maintain this success by continuing to invest in our core neighborhoods and attract businesses to them.

Q: Beyond programs that target the young professional demographic, what types of programs and initiatives would further accelerate the revitalization of urban Columbus neighborhoods, such as Franklinton, The King Lincoln District, The South Side, Weinland Park and beyond?

A: I’ll address those neighborhoods specifically.

In Franklinton, we’re moving forward with a planning process for East Franklinton that builds upon various projects and initiatives to attract the creative class to this neighborhood just west of Downtown. The city invested $900,000 in a warehouse that is being transformed into 42 units designed for living and working. The Urban Smart Growth Company is renovating an old abandoned factory with cheap commercial space marketed for creative business, retail and entertainment uses and demolishing a portion of the B&T Metals site and implementing a plan that embraces both living and working along McDowell Street. CMHA is relocating residents currently located in Riverside Bradley to a new facility on West Broad Street and demolish the entire area for a fresh, new and exciting start. CMHA will construct a mixed income neighborhood similar to New Village Homes in the Italian Village area.

The King Lincoln District is coming back after decades of neglect and blight, around the $10 million cornerstone project – the restoration of the historic Lincoln Theater by the city. The King Lincoln is rebounding with $30 million in new private investments in seven major projects, including commercial and residential developments.

In Weinland Park, the abandoned Columbus Coated Plant will be replaced by 500 new houses seeded by $11 million from the City of Columbus. The first 31 homes are under construction this year by Waggonbrenner Company.

On the South Side, the site of the original Schottenstein Department Store will be the home of a new 20,000 square foot health center that will serve the South Side. We will also invest $1.2 million in 40 new housing opportunities on Innis Avenue, now littered with vacant and abandoned houses. We have brought together partners, led by Community Development for All People to continue the services of the South Side Settlement House and have acquired the SSSH building. I’ve called for a South Side Collaborative to further address the many challenges of this neighborhood.

Q: Arguably, the largest issue on this year’s ballot is SB5. What is your stance on this issue, and why do you feel it’s important for voters to vote “yes” or “no” on this issue?

A: I strongly oppose Issue 2. In Columbus we have taken steps that will save taxpayers more than $144 million through 2019. We made these reforms by working with our unions–not by stripping our workers of their hard-earned bargaining rights.

Q: Several weeks ago, local leaders met to discuss the importance of arts funding and the growth of the creative class as it relates to economic development. How can Columbus invest in the creative community, specifically as it relates to smaller arts collectives and individual artists?

A: In addition to our new efforts to support the creative class in Franklinton and elsewhere, City Council and I have appointed a committee to address the long-term viability of the arts, economic development, travel and tourism and social services. I hope to hear a recommendation from this committee soon.

Q: Please summarize in one sentence why our readers should vote for you in November.

A: Together, we’ve transformed what was already a great city into one of the best cities in the nation, and if we keep working together, I know our best days are ahead of us.

More information can be found online at ColemanForColumbus.com.

To read Earl W. Smith’s answers to these questions, CLICK HERE.

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