WOSU looks back at Mayor Coleman’s 2007 State of City Address

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Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman is set to deliver his first State of the City Address of his new term tonight. WOSU spoke with the mayor this week to see how some of his proposals he made last year are going.

“We’ve been petitioning for sidewalks for 43 years. We’re finally getting them,” Boyd Holliman said.

Holliman owns Boyd’s Barber Shop on Watkins Road on Columbus’s South side. Holliman opened the barber shop in 1965. He said he remembers when there were no sidewalks.

“Oh, for my customers and the kids going back and forth to school they had to walk in the streets and now they’re walking on sidewalks,” Holliman said. Holliman says the two-year-old sidewalks are great, but long overdue. Since 2000, Columbus spent $30 million to build 70 miles of sidewalks around area schools. In last year’s State of the City Address, Mayor Michael Coleman promised an additional $50 million to an initiative called “Operation Safe-Walks.” WOSU followed up with the mayor this week for an update on the sidewalks.

“We’ve done a lot on the South Side. That’s where there’s been major, what I call infrastructural neglect. Multi-generational infrastructure neglect where areas of the city came into the city a generation ago without the basics like sidewalks, curbs,” Coleman said.

Last year, Coleman said he wanted to build sidewalks along busy roads like Lockbourne Road. But so far there are no sidewalks on Lockbourne Road.

Cars speed by David Good as he sits on a bench waiting for his bus.

“As you can see this is a busy intersection right here. A lot of trucks. And on rainy days you have to have sidewalks or you be walking in mud and slush, in the way of traffic like that,” Good said.

Good said it’s not too bad when he walks down Lockbourne Road during the day. But he says at night he gets really nervous.

“People can’t see you on the side of the road. You’ve got a lot of shrubbery and bushes. People fly down here and in a hurry to get home at night. A sidewalk would be a great, great, great advantage to us,” Good said.

Coleman said the city spent last year looking at the engineering and design aspects of Lockbourne Road sidewalks. He said it’s going to be a major reconstruction effort. But he said it will get done.

“I don’t remember when that project actually breaks ground but we have the money for it. It’s set aside.” Coleman said.

Another item on the mayor’s agenda in last year’s State of the City was securing more Columbus police officers and firefighters. He said he wanted to have 1,909 police officers by December. Columbus’ Public Safety Deputy Director Barb Seckler said the mayor surpassed his goal by 15 police officers. The city netted 99 new police officers last year.

But Coleman fell short of his firefighter goal. By December Columbus fire employed 1,514 firefighters – 41 short of the mayor’s goal. The city gained four new firefighters in 2007. Asked this week about missing his goal, Coleman said the city has more police officers than ever and admitted it needs additional firefighters.

“You know, we’re doing well. We want to continue to do well, but we want people to continue to sign up and be a part of it,” Coleman said.

Columbus Fire Battalion Chief Doug Smith says the problem is not about people signing up to be firefighters. Smith said it’s about having enough money to offer more classes.

“When we give our exams we typically have over 3,000 people that sign up for the fire department. So we have plenty of applicants, you know, for the fire service itself. It’s just a matter of getting classes started,” Smith said.

He said the fire department has enough funds to offer one class a year. Each class has between 35 and 50 students. Smith said the department is not losing too many firefighters to retirement, but he expects that to change by 2011.

“If they, if we can come up with, get some more classes, yes, we’d sure like that,” Smith said.

In last year’s State of the City, Coleman said he wanted to attract more and bigger conventions to the city. In a January interview, Experience Columbus’s Brian Ross said it’s going to take more hotel rooms to attract more business to the city.

“If we’re able to add more hotels particularly a facility that is a headquarter hotel, we’ll be able to book, and not only retain that, but book business along side that,” Ross said.

Last year, Coleman called for a study on the feasibility of a new convention hotel. Coleman said the study continues and so does his desire to add more hotel rooms in Columbus.

“Obviously that is tempered by the ability to pay for it. And that’s something we’re looking at right now. When you spend a hundred million dollars you have to make sure that’s it’s something that is fully feasible financially,” Coleman said.

WOSU also checked up with Mayor Coleman on his streetcar proposal made in his 2006 State of the City Address. There have been extensive workshops on the feasibility of having streetcars in Columbus. And the mayor said he wants to keep a promise he made in 2006.

“We have to be in a position to pay for it because it requires new revenues to develop streetcars. And the commitment I made is that we will not have a city-wide tax that pays for a streetcar. We must find other ways,” Coleman said.

The mayor will deliver his 2008 state of the city address tonight at 6 o’clock.

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