Karl Douglass: Fine first step

May 18, 2013 

It is a good thing … no, a great thing, that the Housing Authority figured out a way to move forward with the redevelopment of the BTW housing area. I do not know who specifically came up with the idea to develop a senior living facility as an alternative to fulfill the agency's offsite housing requirement, but whoever did deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.

The conversation about revitalizing the Liberty District necessarily includes a conversation about the future of the property on which the buildings that comprise BTW sit. However, the futures of the people who live in BTW should not be limited by the plans for the property. With the Housing Authority's new proposal, residents of BTW who are 55 and older will relocate to a new senior housing facility and those under 55 will receive vouchers allowing them to have housing options throughout the city. The futures of the people have been properly disconnected from the future of the property.

However, the question of revitalizing the Liberty District still looms large.

Once the BTW buildings are demolished, there will be no shortage of firms seeking to win the rights to redevelop the acreage at the corner of Victory Drive and Veterans Parkway. The financial potential for a development that puts retail, restaurants and, possibly, a hotel directly across the street from the Civic Center and South Commons is enormous. The biggest challenges the Housing Authority will face for this aspect of the project will be assuring that the process of selecting a developer is handled fairly, and determining whether offering the selected developer a ground lease is a better option than selling the land to the developer outright.

But redevelopment of the Liberty District cannot stop at the corner of Veterans and Victory. Attracting developers to parcels on 8th Street, 9th Street, 6th Avenue, 7th Avenue and the other area inside the district will be more difficult.

Private developers are in business to make money. In order to generate developer interest in other areas of the Liberty District, we have to be able to show them how they can make money. Making that argument will require a combination of efforts and tools to include tax incentives and, if possible, removal of the floodplain designation that covers much of the property in the area.

So while I am excited for the residents of BTW and eager to see what project takes shape when the property at the corner of Victory and Veterans becomes available for commercial development, we cannot count these wins alone as a complete solution for the area. There is still work to do.

Karl Douglass, Columbus native and resident, is a frequent commenter on local, state and federal politics. Follow him on Twitter@KarlDouglass or facebook.com/karldouglass.

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