Eastmoor residents want a Main/Broad make-over
By John Matuszak
Main Street in Bexley and Whitehall is undergoing a major make-over, and the residents of Eastmoor are determined that their section of the corridor in between won’t be just an ugly, neglected stepsister.
“Revitalization can reflect the true caliber and potential” of the neighborhood, offered Heidi Samuel, president of the Eastmoor Civic Association and Blockwatch. As part of a national historic byway, “it’s a huge, lengthy monument, and it should be marketed that way.”
The civic association, which has enlisted the assistance of Columbus city planners and other blockwatches, will hold meetings Aug. 8 and 15, from 7-9 p.m., at Fairmoor Presbyterian Church, 360 S. James Road, to examine options for the sections of Main and Broad streets that run between the suburbs.
The Aug. 8 meeting will focus on Broad Street, and the Aug. 15 gathering will eye Main, which Samuel acknowledged is the most critical issue at this time.
Along with long-established businesses such as the Top Steak House, Murray’s Tool Rentals and others, the Eastmoor section of Main (from Gould Road to Barnett Avenue) is also pockmarked with motels that attract drugs, prostitution and other crimes.
Motel One, targeted by the Eastmoor Civic Association and shut down by the order of Judge Harland Hale in 2005, is back in operation. The Brookside Motel has also been declared a public nuisance and is for sale, as is the Capital Motel.
These types of businesses frighten away potential investors and create an economic strain on other merchants, Samuel stated.
While not homing in on any particular parcel, the civic association and city planners are looking to create a commercial overlay that would provide guidelines for future development.
Those guidelines could encourage a more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere for small businesses, with standards for signs and landscaping, Samuel envisioned.
The goal of the meetings, part of the second round of fact-finding after sessions in the spring, is to learn what residents want this neighborhood to look like down the road.
Six major issues were identified at the earlier meetings, and will be addressed individually at the next sessions.
Shopping patterns among residents will be among the items discussed.
“There is a lot of money leaving this area,” Samuel observed.
Broad Street, while more attractive to investors, has no comprehensive development plan, and is a hodge-podge of big box and smaller stores.
Open lots, such as the one between Chesterfield and Broadleigh, should have something “that speaks to the area,” Samuel said.
The final result of the meetings will be a formal planning document to be presented to Columbus City Council.
Samuel is encouraged to have the cooperation of the city’s planning office, and the endorsement of council members Mary Jo Hudson and Maryellen O’ Shaughnessy. The city attorney’s office has been active in keeping the heat on motels and a Main Street strip club recently boarded up.
Daniel Thomas, an urban designer with Columbus, conceded that the Eastmoor corridors are among the “Swiss cheese” pattern of neglected neighborhoods throughout the city.
Having a commercial overlay in hand can attract developers looking for a certain ambience, as well as an assurance of safety, Thomas said.
Such overlays have been successful in revitalizing the High Street/University District, by encouraging new uses for commercial buildings and providing space for sidewalk restaurants and cafes, he pointed out.
Tax abatements are another carrot that the city employs to spark investment. Short North businesses agreed to tax themselves to pay for keeping the area clean, Thomas noted.
It is in everyone’s interest to promote a safe and vibrant Main Street, from end to end, Samuel argued.
Bexley is experiencing a rush of Main Street building, and Whitehall will have a Wal-Mart by the end of the year, with other businesses attracted to its orbit.
Eastmoor has seen a surge in home values, with some properties tripling their selling price, Samuel pointed out.
Samuel and her husband, Jim, moved from Bexley about a decade ago to get more value for their home dollar and to be closer to St. Catharine Catholic Church and school.
Maintaining a strong Eastmoor could attract more young homebuyers to adjacent Columbus neighborhoods, who would become committed to their communities, she projected. Wait 10 years to make improvements “and you could see people flying out of the area.”
With so many competing needs in the city, community involvement is “critical” to making any progress, Thomas said.
The Eastmoor Civic Association has had its successes, from shutting down nuisance businesses to obtaining grants for beautification.
It’s time to build on that momentum, according to Samuel. “We’ve driven home the point that you can make a change. It’s fun to watch people smile when they find out they can do things.”
2005 Messenger Newspapers (July 31, 2006)
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