What an uplifting experience to see all the storefront face-lifting going on downtown from 13th to 11th streets and 29th to 23rd avenues. The federal and state community services block grant program that permitted the sharing of costs for community improvements has sure panned out nicely here in Columbus.
Also, I hear that more businesses are going to renovate their store fronts in the next month or so. What’s really exciting is seeing formerly boarded up 2nd story windows revert back to nice clean windows and frames with the possibility that more of these structures will be suitable for residences.
This monetary risk is a positive investment by storefront owners and the city into Columbus’ business environment and future. I believe that all Columbus residents should take a walking tour of all these improvements on the weekends. Although it’s dark during the annual November “Stroll Around Columbus,” this event could be an opportunity to see many of the positive changes going on downtown.
Another very positive step in the recent past has been the actual construction of the Lost Creek Parkway. This combined federal, state. and community cost-sharing program allowed for an alternative route that decreases traffic in downtown areas and on the highways through Columbus. Plus, it also serves as a multiple-access parkway.
Thanks to the federal government’s stimulus program during the early stages of the recession, the formerly planned two-lane and four-lane segments of the parkway were funded by the federal government to the extent necessary to permit a full four-lane route for the entire parkway. Without the stimulus money, we would have been relegated to another incomplete four-lane major system such as the U.S. 30 and U.S. 81 highways from Columbus to Fremont and Columbus to York.
The recently completed new viaduct was another major city accomplishment. The city diverted some funding earmarked for the Third Avenue viaduct to allow for “freed-up” funding to complete the new viaduct in one full sweep instead of doing it in two stages taking up to two years or more depending upon the funding available from the state and federal governments during the beginning stages of the national recession.
There are other positive steps that have been taken that were very wise in hindsight such as downtown street and curb improvements, airport and facility extensions and expansions, and widening Eighth street to the ADM plant, etc., but are too numerous to mention here.
While there have been numerous positive steps taken by the city in the last five years or so, there are more initiatives that should be pursued until completion as a packaged deal. These include:
-- placing more emphasis on completing a cultural and arts center downtown to spur pedestrian traffic and citizen interest,
-- locating or building a movie theater that shows a couple different movies each night to increase traffic as suggested above in the downtown area,
-- encouraging new restaurants and social gathering places downtown (there are several positive rumors to such an extent),
-- recruiting a small or medium sized hotel to locate downtown to encourage local walking and pedestrian traffic to above areas,
-- giving more leeway for local businesses downtown to permit residential housing on second and third floors, or for establishing businesses on these floors,
-- building new middle and junior high schools,
-- investing some tax funding into the Columbus Community Hospital so that it can become more of a regional hospital center thereby increasing the number of medical procedures that can be conducted locally to meet the needs of a wider radius in Nebraska,
-- installing flashing yellow lights for north and southbound travelers on 33rd and 48th avenues at the parkway for safety purposes,
-- delaying or decreasing the amount of city and state tax revenues spent for depreciable equipment such as law enforcement, park, street cleaning, or very expensive fire vehicles that cost over 1/2 million dollars each, (but lose their value very rapidly). Delaying such expenditures for high cost depreciable “sunk costs” equipment could, in my opinion, be much better spent on matching grants for uplifting and renovating downtown buildings and other capital improvements that generate more sales and sales tax revenues for Columbus to fund such depreciable equipment and vehicle purchases.
If a few businesses such as BD or ADM need timely or onsite fire equipment to respond to rare urgent situations; I believe that the tax incentives and enhancements they receive from city taxpayers should be used to supplement their own needs without relying completely on Columbus and its tax paying citizens to fund such costly services, and
--relocating some fire equipment from both the Eighth Street facility and the main fire building downtown to northwestern parts of town on city-owned property near the hospital to service the increasing needs of expanding housing and medical facilities located there and for easier access to both the parkway and 38th Street to reach other sections of the growing, surrounding Columbus areas.
All the above is based on my own personal observations, thoughts and conclusions. Any future decisions and actions, of course, must be vetted by our excellent representatives on the city council, the city administrator and the mayor. They too must determine the extent to which more consultant reports are necessary, the level of citizen input, and/or the need for voters to vote on certain issues.
Les Krings is a resident of Columbus