City Manager Isaiah Hugley will ask Columbus Council today to approve spending almost $690,000 to buy land in the Liberty District and a small crime-riddled apartment complex off Fort Benning Road.
The bulk of the spending, $577,770, would be to buy seven plots of land, consisting of 31 small parcels, in the Liberty District as part of the city's master plan to revitalize the area around the historic old Liberty Theater.
With those purchases, the city would own practically all of the three blocks between Eighth and Ninth Streets and Sixth and Ninth Avenues, and the southern half of the block between Sixth and Seventh Avenues and Seventh and Eighth Streets.
A master plan for revitalizing the Liberty District calls for reintroducing residential development to the area, which would attract commercial investment. Single-family housing, coupled with mixed-income housing, similar to recent Housing Authority projects are also possible, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said.
The purchase of the Wade Street Apartments would cost the city $112,000, not including the cost of demolition, which has not been estimated. The money for all the acquisitions would come from designated funds from the 1999 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
Police call the Wade Street Apartments "The Hole" because of frequent drug activity, violent crime and prostitution.
Last October, Tomlinson sent a letter to the owners of the apartments, putting them on notice that the property was considered a "chronic site of criminal and derelict activity," and that the city would pursue legal action against them if them if the activity continued.
The letter included 27 police incident reports of violent, sexual or drug-related criminal activity at the complex. Since the letter was sent, police have been called to the complex another 27 times on those kinds of reports, Tomlinson said.
After negotiations with the city, the owners agreed to sell the property to the city below market value of $126,000. The 1.4-acre complex consists of nine small cinder-block cottages and five duplex units facing each other across a dirt parking lot.
Tomlinson said the city will pay to have the complex demolished and maintain the empty lot until it can be developed, probably by a not-for-profit developer.
"The city has a whole tool box of tools it can use to encourage properties to come up to standards," Tomlinson said. "There are some areas where it is the most effective tool is to buy it below market rate. We believe this will save us many-fold in what we currently spend in taxpayer dollars in ministering to that area through police, fire and EMS services."
In addition to removing a constant criminal threat, and saving city assets, Tomlinson said the surrounding area will benefit greatly from its absence.
"There is a neighborhood there," Tomlinson said. "Once you can contain these crime havens and control the behavior there, the communities really do thrive, they respond almost immediately."
Tomlinson sent a similar letter last year to the owners of a problem complex on Decatur Court in Carver Heights. She said that property has "stabilized" and is not causing the kind of trouble it once did.
Tomlinson said the land purchases would add to an already substantial amount of property owned by the city. As long as there is a plan to use the property to improve the surrounding area and to return it to private ownership, Tomlinson said she's OK with the investment.
"My personal philosophy is not for the government to acquire an inordinate amount of property," Tomlinson said. "It takes it off the tax rolls, and that's not a desirable thing. From my perspective, the city should only own property for its immediate purposes and function, or as a conduit to get it to something else that gets it back on the tax rolls."