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Hilltop next up on city’s priority list - News - The Columbus Dispatch


A new plan to transform struggling areas of Columbus’ Hilltop aims to address issues residents have raised in the past year as priorities, including drug addiction and trafficking, living wage jobs and training, and home repair and maintenance.

“We really wanted to come up with a plan that focuses on the people,” Nick Bankston, the city’s project manager for neighborhood transformation strategies, said of the Envision Hilltop plan announced Tuesday.

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The plan is similar to the One Linden plan the city released in October 2018. That plan also included recommendations to reduce crime, rebuild commercial corridors, improve housing and boost job opportunities for residents.

But Bankston said the Hilltop plan is different because a lot of its recommendations focus on the root causes of problems facing the neighborhood — from litter and trash to prostitution and drug use — to make the Hilltop again a productive, strong, blue-collar, middle-class neighborhood.

“It addresses socioeconomic issues, not just infrastructure ones,” he said.

That includes recommendations such as increasing penalties for drug traffickers, offering more emergency support services for people, and funding intensive street outreach to sex workers and human trafficking victims.

It also includes incentives for Columbus firefighters and police officers to live on the Hilltop, training people in skilled trades and providing assistance to heads of low-income households attending school.

After taking office in 2016, Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther pledged to take steps to revive the Hilltop and Linden areas.

Ginther said the Hilltop plan is comprehensive in its approach and what people in the community want.

“This isn’t City Hall’s plan or a plan put together in an ivory tower somewhere. It’s informed by, driven by and focused on the people that live here that have made the Hilltop such a special neighborhood,” Ginther said.

Bankston said the city will be unable to accomplish the plan on its own. He said the effort will require a combination of the public and private sectors, along with faith-based and community leaders —and residents.

City officials spent 18 months on the plan, talking to residents and community leaders and holding meetings. The 186-page result was released Tuesday evening at the Hilltop’s Glenwood Community Center. More than 100 people attended the dinner and presentation.

According to the study, the Hilltop now has a population of 19,445, down from a high of 33,000 in 1960. The neighborhood has 6,667 households.

But the plan focuses on the Hilltop’s older and more struggling area, generally bounded by a railroad line to the north, Interstate 70 on the east, Hague and South Roys Avenue and Binns Boulevard on the west and Mound Street on the south.

This area is home to Sullivant Avenue, which The Dispatch examined in its “Suffering on Sullivant” series this past fall. The series found that more than half the city’s prostitution arrests between 2017 and July 1, 2019, took place on Sullivant or within a few blocks of the street in both the Hilltop and Franklinton, and that more than 1,000 homes were vacant in the precincts touching Sullivant.

Bankston said Sullivant’s problems are not unique to the corridor itself but representative of the larger social and economic challenges in the area.

He said it’s going to take time to turn the Hilltop target area around.

“The city is invested in this for the long haul,” he said.

Columbus is often thought of as a white-collar town because of corporate headquarters here, but it was home to major manufacturing plants for years, including two on the West Side: General Motors’ Fisher Body plant off Georgesville Road that employed 5,500 at its peak, and Westinghouse’s Phillipi Road plant that employed 4,000 in 1965.

Both are now closed, which has contributed to the Hilltop’s decline, along with the shuttering of Westland Mall in 2012.

Hilltop neighborhood activist Lisa Boggs said she believes the plan is a document to hand investors and people interested in redeveloping the Hilltop.

“I’m hoping it will be a change agent,” said Boggs, “a template for all the different departments in there, city and state.”

“We have fast-food jobs and service jobs, but you need three jobs to survive,” Boggs said. “It’s gonna take all of us to come together and do what we can.”

Geoff Phillips, who leads the Highland West Neighbors Association, lives in the plan’s target area.

Phillips said he had not seen the plan, though he requested it from the city. He wants to see more police officers concentrated along Broad Street.

“We need the crime taken out of here,” Phillips said.

He also said the area needs more mixed-income housing and the city needs to find partners to help bring back the neighborhood, such as on the South Side with Nationwide Children’s Hospital, or Weinland Park with Ohio State University.

Part of the plan addresses more mixed-income and owner-occupied housing, recommending using land-bank properties or underused sites at key gateways to create new affordable rental housing, and expanding the local land trust program to keep homes affordable.

To review the plan, go to www.envisionhilltop.com.

mferench@dispatch.com

@MarkFerenchik

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