Housing authority brings new plan for BTW revitalization that steers clear of Liberty District

mowen@ledger-enquirer.comMay 14, 2013 

Columbus Housing Authority CEO Len Williams gave Columbus Council a preview Tuesday of his new plan for revitalizing the Booker T. Washington Apartments, a plan that steers clear of the Liberty District.

After a tumultuous recent attempt to combine the BTW revitalization with an attempt to resuscitate the old historic Liberty District crashed and burned recently, Williams retreated, regrouped and brought forth a new plan for the blighted public housing project.

“We are pleased to be able to come back with this,” Williams told councilors. “We do feel like it is important to move forward with this now because we think the door is closing on funding for these types of developments.”

The plan is basically the same approach, but without the Liberty District involved.

The southern half of BTW, bounded by Victory Drive, Veterans Parkway, Fifth Street and Sixth Avenue, would razed and either sold or leased for commercial purposes, according to Williams.

The northern half, bounded by Veterans Parkway, Sixth Street, Sixth Avenue and Fifth Streets, would be rebuilt, in the fashion of Arbor Pointe and Ashley Station.

But before any of that would be done, a 100-unit “senior living” facility would be built in south Columbus, on the site of the current Chapman Homes on Fort Benning Road at Chapman Way.

The Chapman phase would cost the city $1 million and the BTW phase $1.5 million, which would be spread out $400,000 per year for five years and $500,000 in the sixth year, starting in fiscal 2015. The Housing Authority would contribute about $7.77 million, Williams said.

The residents at Chapman Homes have been relocated to Arbor Pointe, leaving that site open for the proposed three-story, 100-unit development for those 55 and older, Williams said.

“It just so happens we have 101 persons who would be eligible at the existing Booker T. Washington site,” Williams said. “So it works quite nicely for the first phase.”

Councilor Bruce Huff, along with his sister-in-law Tax Commissioner Lula Lunsford Huff, led the fight against the initial BTW proposal, which would have located about 100 public housing units close to the historic Liberty Theater. The Lunsford and Huff families own property in the Liberty area.

“I want to thank you for your sensitivity to what’s been going on lately. I think it’s a win-win for everyone,” Huff said. “Now everybody can move forward and develop according to various plans that are out there.”

At-large Councilor Skip Henderson thanked Williams “for taking the journey you’ve taken over the past several weeks.”

“Oftentimes when there’s a tumultuous situation, people think folks are at odds or angry with each other, when frankly it’s sometimes just an example of the system working,” Henderson said. “The system worked. The people who were involved had their voiced heard, the developers and the organizations that were in a decision making capacity ultimately listened and came up with a plan that would best satisfy the wishes of the current residents and the needs of the community.”

Williams will bring a formal request for funding to Council at its May 28 meeting.

If all goes as planned, work would start on the Chapman Homes phase in late 2014 and be complete about a year later. Work would begin on the BTW phase in late 2016 and be completed about a year after that, he said.

BTW currently has 392 units. Phases one and two of the BTW project call for 100 units each, leaving 192 families unaccounted for.

“HUD will give us vouchers for the rest of those residents, and that’s a win-win for the residents,” Williams said. “As much as we like our public housing, the residents always like to have a choice.”

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