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Columbus Council to establish new Liberty District committee for redevelopment initiative

Looking Back: Robert Anderson discusses challenges facing Liberty Theatre

Robert Anderson, chair emeritus of the Liberty Theatre board of directors, talks about some of the challenges facing the theatre in this short video. These are excerpts from the Sunday Interview with Anderson.
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Robert Anderson, chair emeritus of the Liberty Theatre board of directors, talks about some of the challenges facing the theatre in this short video. These are excerpts from the Sunday Interview with Anderson.

Columbus Council plans to create a new Liberty District committee to guide the city’s effort to revitalize the area.

The issue was discussed Tuesday at a regular council meeting, where City Planning Director Rick Jones provided councilors with an update on the project.

Jones shared information garnered from three public meetings held this year for community input. Another public meeting was held 6 p.m. Tuesday at Mildred Terry Library to provide stakeholders with the take-away from the three meetings.

Jones said the next step will be for council to establish a Liberty District committee and direct it to return with recommendations within 180 days. He said stakeholders have expressed the desire to stick with a 2003 master plan for the area, with some possible tweaks.

“If that’s the case, that’s fine,” he said. “But that’s what this committee can really bring to us.”

Councilor Bruce Huff thanked Jones for the update and asked how members of the committee would be appointed.

City Manager Isaiah Hugley said the city would come up with a process and share the information at Tuesday night’s meeting.

Later at the Liberty District meeting, Jones and Hugley said they planned to propose that council form an 11-member committee, allowing each councilor and the mayor to appoint a member. They said it would be up to council to decide if the committee should be expanded.

Some stakeholders who showed up at Mildred Terry Library complained that they weren’t notified of the meeting. Hugley and planning officials said they would send out emails in the future. They also committed to planning another meeting in early December.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Mayor Pro-Tem Evelyn Turner Pugh asked what another committee would accomplish, considering that others have existed in the past.

“The biggest problem is trying to get a developer to go into that neighborhood,” she said. “We’ve got City Village. We’ve got those other TAD areas, but the difference is when they came to us with their presentation, they had a development plan already.”

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said that’s what the city is trying to accomplish through the new initiative.

Jones said it’s been a while since the 2003 Liberty District Master plan was developed.

“I think it’s just time for us to go back and renew it, if nothing else; just bring it up to speed,” he said. “But more importantly, it is to make sure that everybody understands ... what we’re trying to achieve there.”

The Liberty District is bounded by Victory Drive to 11th Street and Veterans Parkway to 10th Avenue.

Councilor Glenn Davis said it’s important that the area is redeveloped as part of the wider community and not an isolated neighborhood. He suggested including the Columbus Housing Authority in the planning.

Hugley said he has already spoken to leaders at Uptown Columbus to serve as mentors for the committee. He also thinks the Housing Authority should be included, since the agency has experience with redevelopment projects in the city.

In 2013, the Housing Authority had plans to build 100 apartments around the historic Liberty Theatre as part of the redevelopment of Booker T. Washington apartments. But the agency, which had the support of the mayor and Hugley, abandoned those plans due to backlash from some stakeholders who considered the project too dense for the area. Critics said the 2003 master plan called for more cultural and commercial development.

Tax Commissioner Lula Huff, whose family owns property in the Liberty District, was one of the project’s strongest opponents. Councilor Bruce Huff is her brother-in-law.

The Housing Authority recently completed the revised BTW project, which resulted in the development of the 106-unit Columbus Commons now located near the intersection of Veterans Parkway and Victory Drive. Another 100 apartments were built at the old Chapman Homes location, now transformed into Patriot Pointe.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Hugley said the Housing Authority’s property on the southern end of the site is now available for commercial development.

Jones stressed the need for someone or a group to champion redevelopment of the area. That was an argument made by opponents of the Housing Authority project, who pointed to that requirement in the 2003 master plan.

Councilor Judy Thomas said she heard the issue come up at the Liberty District meetings she attended earlier this year.

“We talked at each one of those meetings about the fact that Uptown Columbus was pretty much the champion, if you will, for the redevelopment of Uptown,” she said. “The City Village had a group that was pretty much the champion for City Village, and that has moved things along.

“There has not been a specific, designated — if you will — identified group or champion for the Liberty District,” she said. “And it would be a tremendous aid, I think, in getting all these things that you’re talking about moving if there was such a group.”

Alva James-Johnson: 706-571-8521, @amjreporter

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