State of the City 2012: South Side Renewal, Fighting Blight, and Swagger

Walker Evans Walker Evans State of the City 2012: South Side Renewal, Fighting Blight, and Swagger
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The annual State of the City Address provides citizens with an update on what has been accomplished over the course of the past year, and sets the tone for projects that will be focused upon for the upcoming year.

Tonight’s event may have been short on grand announcements, but was sprinkled with many smaller milestones that collectively add up.

“We created more jobs than any other city in Ohio, more people moved to Columbus than any other city in Ohio, and we had a lower unemployment rate than any other city in Ohio,” said Mayor Coleman during tonight’s address while listing off the numerous accomplishments made over the past year.

Looking ahead, the focus for neighborhood renewal efforts sit squarely upon the Parsons Avenue Corridor located just south of Downtown. This area has seen limited progress with revitalization efforts over the past decade, but Coleman would like to see that change this year.

“None of our neighborhoods is in more need of renewal than the South Parsons Corridor on the South Side, where one in five houses is vacant and abandoned,” he said. “This summer the City of Columbus will break ground on the new John Maloney Health and Wellness Center on Parsons Avenue.”

Coleman also announced that Columbus Galvanizing, a manfuacturing business located on the South Side, will be investing $6 million to expand operations, keeping jobs located within the community.

A group of south side “champions” will invest an additional $3.2 million into the South Side through new programs that will fix up homes, provide workforce training and other services. The group of champions includes Jim Grote (founder of Donatos Pizza), John Edgar (Community Development for All People), Nationwide Children’s Hospital and many other individuals, businesses and organizations.

Other key focus areas of this year’s Address include new efforts to engage young people in sports and leadership activities, a program to help ex-offenders re-enter the local workforce, and the new effort to demolish abandoned homes throughout the city. And of course, the Mayor’s favorite buzz word “swagger” was tossed around a couple of times throughout his speech.

“Swagger is a confidence to do what is necessary to achieve, a belief in yourself and a belief in your city,” Coleman stated. “And that swagger is evident in our people, our neighborhoods and our history.”

The full text of the 2012 State of City Address can be found below:

Today is a leap day in a leap year. But on a Valentine’s Day 200 years ago in 1812, this city was established by the Ohio legislature to be our state capital. Our location was hotly contested. Even our name was the subject of significant political debate.

The initial plan was to call us “Ohio City.” But a popular tavern owner in Franklinton named Joseph Foos felt a special kinship with Christopher Columbus and wanted our city to be named after him.

When Foos learned the legislature was planning on calling the new town Ohio City, through an act of political cunning and statesmanship, he invited them across the Scioto River to his bar for a few drinks.

By the end of the night and many drinks later, he’d convinced a majority of them to name the new city Columbus. Politics, a bar, drinks—some things never change.

In this, our Bicentennial year, we will celebrate our past, show pride today, and use this year as our launching pad to the greatness of our future.

Our roots are here in the very spot where we gather this evening. We stand tonight at the site of the first Columbus City Hall. I believe this room would be my office. City Council could meet in the basement somewhere.

It was here where the great Underground Railroad activist Rev. James Poindexter served as our first black City Council member.

It was here where the United Mine Workers of America formed to improve working conditions of miners.

In 1921 the original City Hall was destroyed in a fire, a suspected act of arson. Imagine that, someone upset at City Hall. The Ohio Theatre was built in its place as a movie theater.

But in 1969, the theater closed. The plan was that it would be torn down and replaced with an office tower. But our people came together and said, “Not so fast.” So, the community formed CAPA to raise money, save and restore this theater.

CAPA recognized that a movie theater was no longer sustainable, and transformed the Ohio Theatre into a home for the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, BalletMet, the Broadway Series, Opera Columbus, and the CAPA Summer Movie Series.

This beautiful theater has achieved greatness by holding onto our roots while priming ourselves for renewal.

Strength in our roots, commitment to our renewal: That’s what makes this city strong.

And on this, our bicentennial year, the state of our city is strong. In fact, we are at the precipice of a renaissance.

These past two centuries have brought upon us a sense of swagger that will catapult us into a new paradigm. Swagger is a confidence to do what is necessary to achieve, a belief in yourself and a belief in your city.

And that swagger is evident in our people, our neighborhoods and our history.

Our spirit and our renewal has been guided by our people for 200 years. From the very beginning, from Lucas Sullivant himself, was planted the spirit of ingenuity, openness, courage and compassion.

Through his act of taking into his home and raising as his own, a little black boy named Arthur Boke at a time when black folk were sold as chattel, Lucas Sullivant set the stage for generations to come that remains a part of who were are, even to this day.
_ _ _ _ _

With our bicentennial on the horizon, the City of Columbus has had a remarkable, historic year of achievement.

At long last the City of Columbus adopted a comprehensive recycling program for every single-family household.

We started new youth programs that touched the lives of more than 3,500 young people.

We installed 114 safety cameras to catch criminals and deter illegal activity in our neighborhoods.

We reduced violent crimes across the board and reduced homicides by more than 11 percent.

We created more jobs than any other city in Ohio, more people moved to Columbus than any other city in Ohio, and we had a lower unemployment rate than any other city in Ohio.

We broke ground at American Addition to build 150 new homes in this once-neglected and forgotten neighborhood and began a revitalization plan to make Franklinton a new district for the creative generation of our city.

We saw Weinland Park rise from the depths of despair with new homes and new opportunity.

We saw more money invested to resurface more streets than at any other time in our city’s history.

We built almost 10 new miles of accessible sidewalks.

We built miles and miles of bike paths, creating one of the best bike trail systems in the entire nation.

We addressed the issues of hundreds of residents through our Neighborhood Pride program, where we held four town hall meetings across the city.

We implemented domestic partner benefits for city employees.

We opened the award-winning Scioto Mile and Columbus Commons, bringing 400,000 thousand people to the center of our city last summer.

After a little elbowing, we brought 2,500 new casino jobs into the city and developed a plan that will embrace job creation in the area around the casino.

We saved thousands of Downtown jobs by protecting our investments in the Arena District.

We are creating 700 additional jobs through the expansion of Scioto Downs.

We have taken steps to save $200 million in city health and pension benefits, exceeding our commitment to taxpayers.

We maintained our Triple A credit rating. In fact, our credit rating is stronger than the State of Ohio, the United States of America and every other city of our size in the nation. In fact, there are only 12 nations in the world that equal our credit rating.

And we are close to an agreement with our neighbors to stop using tax incentives to steal jobs from one Central Ohio jurisdiction to another.

Columbus was ranked as one of the next big boom towns, a top city for college graduates, for tourists, for kids and families, the best city for economic growth in the Midwest and among the smartest cities on the planet.

All of these accomplishments were just last year.

And I want to thank every member of council for their contributions to those accomplishments.
Andy Ginther for his role in job creation;
Hearcel Craig for his work in our neighborhoods;
Priscilla Tyson for her work in finances;
Eileen Paley for her role in recycling;
Troy Miller for helping save millions in health and pension benefits.
Michelle Mills for her work on public safety.
Zach Klein for his work on behalf of youth.

Further, I’d like to thank the best city auditor in the nation, Hugh Joseph Dorrian.

With all our successes, all our swagger, for all we have to show, we still have much more to do. And if we want to stay the course toward greatness, we must meet our challenges with renewed vigor.
_ _ _ _ _

One of our greatest challenges is vacant and abandoned houses.

Although we have made great strides in this area, the scourge of vacant and abandoned housing continues to rain blight upon our neighborhoods. It’s a cancer that erodes the very fabric of our city by becoming cesspools for drugs and crime, fires and destruction.

Despite our efforts, about 6,000 vacant and abandoned homes shame our city.

Of those, 900 are so bad that they present a health, safety and welfare hazard to kids and families. They must be demolished. And they will be.

We will set aside $11.5 million over the next 4 years to tear down these monuments to misery.

We did not create this problem. It was handed to us by banks, slumlords and unscrupulous investors in the worst recession since the Great Depression.

We will fight vacant and abandoned houses by creating a specialized unit of code enforcement officers, lawyers and land bank officials solely focused on these properties. We will call them the Vacant and Abandoned Properties team, or the VAP team.

The VAP team will execute a three-point plan to attack vacant and abandoned houses. It will enforce the rules, demolish the worst of the worst units and restore houses where possible.

The VAP team will be on the front lines in our neighborhoods, fighting negligent properties and property owners.

For those out there who are serial offenders, you’re about to get VAPped.

We will provide a land care program that will pay neighborhood groups to cut the grass and maintain gardens. We will also sell some vacant parcels to adjacent property owners for the value of their sweat equity devoted to that property’s care. If you can mow it, you can own it.

And for those who are perpetuating this problem rather than working with us to solve it, we will call you out publicly. We will publish the names of serial offenders and expose those who infect our neighborhoods.

We’ll call out serial offenders like Four Corners Investment and Stillwater Asset Backed Fund and anybody else who reeks with the stench of blight.

We are on a mission Columbus. That mission is to fight the blight.

Thanks to City Attorney Pfeiffer for his leadership on this issue.
_ _ _ _ _

During this bicentennial year where we recognize our greatest achievements, we cannot afford to lose our greatest treasure: our young people. And we’ve got work to do, Columbus.

We must renew a community effort to restore the promise of our city to our young. There is nothing more painful to a city than to risk losing a generation of youth to crime, violence and poverty.

We must do for them what was done for us: bequeath a better city to the next generation and guide them to lead it.

Columbus is rooted in youth advocacy.

We are rooted in leaders like the late Jack Gibbs Sr., who championed Columbus kids as a teacher, a coach and the principal of East High School, the first black high school principal in the city.

We are rooted in leaders like Cliff Tyree, who passed away last year. A city cabinet member appointed by Mayor Sensenbrenner, Cliff established the Youth Services Bureau almost 40 years ago, and was founder of I Know I Can.

And then-Councilmember Ben Espy who created the Columbus Youth Corps in the early 1980s.

It was in Jack’s, Cliff’s and Ben’s footsteps we followed when we created the APPS program last year, which in its first summer pulled 2,700 teens and young adults off our streets and into our rec centers. And we are expanding APPS for this summer, deploying street soldiers to intervene with gang members and deter violence.

It was their example that inspired us to partner with COWIC to hire almost 1,700 youth to work last summer.

While these initiatives are important strides toward building our youth, the need is far greater than those initiatives can provide.

To this end, tonight I am proud to announce a new effort called Youth First. Youth First will:

Shift the city’s focus toward greater engagement in the lives of young people through sports, leadership and anti-violence efforts.

It will better coordinate and communicate existing youth programs.

We will have a page on the Recreation and Parks website where kids and their parents can go to find all youth sports programming in the community.

Because sports play a critical role in a young person’s development.

As a kid, I remember when my brothers, my friends and I played baseball in our backyard from dawn til dusk. Somebody would smash a baseball into Mr. Stokes’ window next door. We eventually found a new place to play after we got tired of Mr. Stokes angrily chasing us down the street.

Or my days as a running back on my middle school and high school football team. No, it is not true that I wore a leather helmet without a facemask.

A funny thing happened on the way to learning how to catch a football. I learned teamwork. A drive to the basket instilled a personal drive to achieve. Practice taught me about discipline and hard work. Losing taught me persistence. Winning taught me leadership.

While our schools offer several sports at the middle school level, not everybody makes the cut. And while there are some very affordable activities outside of school, others can cost between $150 and $2,000 per player, which is more than many of our families can afford.

And yet many of those same families have children plagued by obesity. Others are struggling in school. And we know that kids who participate in sports exercise their bodies and their minds—getting healthy while performing better at school.

That’s why every 6th, 7th or 8th grader in Columbus should have the opportunity to participate in a sport.

We hope to break down financial barriers to families who want their kids in a sport and to make sports more accessible to more kids who want to participate.

To this end we will set aside $200,000 for grants to teams and leagues to open their doors for more kids and help reduce the financial burden to families with the most need. We will also encourage the formation of more teams and more leagues for more kids.

Through an effort called SportsMentor, we will expose these same youth to many athletes and sports figures that live in our city to give them not just lessons on the skill of the sport, but lessons in life, perseverance, leadership, and on what it means to be an adult.

Lessons from people like Coach Satch Sullinger, who is here today.

And for those young people who will never throw a football, never skate on ice or never shoot a basketball, they too can be leaders. They can learn about their city, and become civic contributors through a new effort called City Leaders.

This year City Leaders will expose middle and high school kids to leadership skills and civic engagement as they grow into young adults.

These initiatives will help our young, prepare them for the future, and give them a foundation from which to build.
_ _ _ _ _

We are a city rooted in safety, in justice and respect for the law.

But we are also rooted in the belief of renewal for those who have served their time in jail for mistakes they made in life. Our community’s hope for ex-offender rehabilitation began in 1875.

That year there was a wedding ceremony at the Ohio Penitentiary attended by 1,100 prisoners and 500 Columbus citizens. Two recently released prisoners, Ann McFarland and Thomas Miles exchanged vows.

The guests included members of the General Assembly, Columbus officials, business leaders and socialites who wished the couple a happy and more productive life to come.

That spirit of restoration remains today.

Each year more than 2,000 ex-offenders in state prisons return to Franklin County after paying their debts to society.

We can deal with the reentry of ex-offenders into our community in two ways: cast them aside into the cycle of crime and violence or help them restore our community by restoring their lives.

If we choose the do-nothing approach, we will probably see them back in prison, and that comes at a financial and social cost. It costs more than $25,000 a year to house an inmate in an Ohio prison.

But if we help to train ex-offenders and prepare them for a productive life, we can break the cycle of destruction in favor of restoration.

To this end, we’re creating the Restoration Academy, a partnership between the City, COWIC and other nonprofits to restore the community and restore the lives of ex-offenders.

Restoration Academy will be a hard-to-get-into, hard-to-graduate-from 6-month boot camp for 15 candidates per year. It will address life skills, work readiness, job training, job certification, health and fitness and culminate in an internship with the city.

Restoration Academy will be a tough, no-nonsense approach to re-entry. An ex-offender who is fortunate enough to be admitted and works hard enough to graduate can earn a certificate qualifying them for a range of jobs in our community, including city government.

Fifteen per year is a small number, but a significant catalyst. We are setting an example for our entire community—how we can help ex-offenders become productive citizens.

We take on this challenge not because it is easy, but because it is the right thing to do.
_ _ _ _ _

And as we offer the opportunity for self-renewal, we also have many of our neighborhoods in need of renewal.

None of our neighborhoods is in more need of renewal than the South Parsons Corridor on the South Side, where one in five houses is vacant and abandoned. High teen pregnancy, infant mortality and death rates for chronic diseases plague the neighborhood.

In fact, there are more uninsured adults in this area than in every other part of Franklin County. It has a poverty rate of nearly 30 percent, an unemployment rate of almost 21 percent and nearly 40 percent of adults don’t have a high school diploma.

We called the community to act, and our call to action has been heard.

This summer the City of Columbus will break ground on the new John Maloney Health and Wellness Center on Parsons Avenue. The Wexner Medical Center, Columbus Neighborhood Health Centers, and Columbus Public Health will work in partnership to offer a full range of services for everybody from infants to senior citizens.

We will also work to build or rehab a new building as a home base for much-needed job training, housing and human services and child care for people that need it desperately.

We are addressing housing by seeking state resources to build 40 new homes for families and a 56-unit apartment building for seniors, both to be completed next year.

And we are fighting for every job as tonight I am pleased to announce that Columbus Galvanizing, a south side manufacturing business, will invest $6 million to expand its operations, and help maintain a stable jobs base for this community.

But most importantly, this neighborhood needs champions to fight for them. And tonight I’m proud to announce the champions who have answered the call to action to save this neighborhood.

Champions like Jim Grote, the founder and chair of Donatos Pizza, John Edgar and Community Development for All People, developers Don Kelley and Bob Weiler, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the Crane Group, ODW Logistics, DLZ, the United Way of Central Ohio, The Columbus Foundation and Franklin County.

Collectively these champions will invest at least $3.2 million in the renewal of this part of the South Side.

These investments will include:
a comprehensive new effort to fix up homes;
a new state of the art early childhood care facility;
Workforce development training;
And a healthy lifestyle initiative.

And we call on new champions to join us.

While this South Side collaborative and new investments represent great strides toward progress in this neighborhood, we still have miles and miles to go to turn this neighborhood around.

The challenges here were not created overnight and will not be solved overnight.

But we take on this challenge not because it is easy but because it is the right thing to do.
_ _ _ _ _

Sometimes the right thing to do is the hardest thing to do, and that requires courage. In order for a city to progress it takes the courage of its people to act.

It took courage for Jim Grote and his family to answer the call to action to save the South Side. Jim Grote could have continued to grow his extraordinary pizza business, now a chain of 200 restaurants. Yet in this, our bicentennial year, where we reach back to our roots, Jim Grote also reached back to his as a South Sider himself.

He reached back to 1963 where he, as a college student borrowed $1,300 from his father to purchase his first restaurant on the South Side called Donatos. From there the Donatos Pizza empire grew.

But Jim had the courage and conviction to stand up for the area that got him started. Tonight I’m pleased to announce that Jim Grote and his family, including his daughter, Jane Grote Abell, Donatos president and CEO, will contribute $1 million in this effort to save the South Side.

Courage is in no short supply in those who risk their lives so that we may live ours—those who serve in our military. One veteran’s story in particular is a demonstration of courage not only on the battlefield, but on the field of everyday life in America.

Steve Hill is a captain in the United States Army.

He served two tours in Iraq.

He saved lives in Iraq.

He served his country with distinction.

He is a City of Columbus employee.

Army Captain Steve Hill is also gay.

For two decades he had a secret. He lived in fear under the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. He told me that he defended other people’s freedom but not his own because he was gay. He could not tell anybody or he would be discharged from the Army he loved.

His fear was real until one day Captain Hill mustered up the courage before a national TV audience during a recent presidential debate to ask the candidates their opinions on the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.

As the audience roundly booed him, Captain Hill stepped out from behind the secrecy of the curtain and into the light.

People recognize courage. So did his fellow soldiers, his commander, and other people who up to that day did not know he was gay. But they stood by him.

Captain Hill, we stand by you too.

And then there’s my man Max. Max is 13 years old. He loves what other kids love: football, Ocho Cinco in particular, basketball, Dwayne Wade in particular, the movies, the Transformers in particular.

He really likes girls and likes to eat chicken wings.

Max is also afflicted with spina bifida, a birth defect of the spine. Max has had 22 surgeries in his young life to address various problems related to spina bifida. While Max can never use his legs, he has a heart and a smile that is bigger than the brightness of the sun and an outlook on life that is more optimistic than anybody I know.

He has the courage of optimism. Because no matter his pain from surgery after surgery, Max is a mighty soul. He’s a superhero.

In times when the weight of this office gets heavy, when I slump my shoulders or drag my feet, I go see Max, usually at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

And I see Max lying in his bed, smiling, unconcerned about his affliction or his pain, but with optimism about his future.

As I look at Max, all of sudden the weight on my shoulders is lifted. How could I dare feel anything but optimism? How could any of us feel anything but optimism?

Max has courage. Please give him a hand.

Courage, compassion and faith in the almighty God.

These are characteristics of our city.

So let us go forth from this time and place and show our swagger to the world that we are the best city in the nation to live, work and raise a family.

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