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Sullivant Avenue project to bring art, road changes by fall

A main and historic artery leading from the Hilltop to downtown Columbus is undergoing a second phase of artistic and infrastructure changes.

“This project incorporates public art in spaces that enhance pedestrian safety, mobility and streetscape beautification along the nearly two-mile corridor on Sullivant Avenue between I-70 to Hague Avenue,” said Columbus City Councilwoman Lourdes Barroso de Padilla.

The $10 million project is also a part of the Sullivant Bright public art and parklet project, she said.

“The artwork will celebrate the history, community and spirit of the corridor,” Barroso de Padilla said at a recent city council meeting where members voted to award a $2 million contract to Shelly and Sands to start the second phase after work last year, including sidewalk section replacement, kicked off the first phase.

By the fall, there will be decorative lighting under I-70, where a permanent mural will be painted. An artist is expected to be selected this summer.

Changes to the roadway are expected to be completed as well. Some curbs on the southside of the street will be extended further into the roadway, and work includes adding pedestrian refuge islands, bus shelters and sections of curb that extend further out at bus stops, so buses won’t have to leave the travel lane to pick up passengers. Artistic elements will be added to the bus shelters, to electrical boxes and in other ways, including temporary sculptures.

The changes are designed to cut pedestrian injuries and fatalities and help traffic move more smoothly into the city.

The roadway changes were demonstrated on the streets last summer with temporary murals in the street painted by 21 regional artists.

Amanda Golden with Designing Local, the firm that worked on the project with the city, said the temporary murals were put in place to help residents visualize the changes.

“This was a tactical urbanism project, where we’re really exploring how to illustrate the improvements the city is making to its infrastructure through creativity. And that is why artists were hired to kind of envision what that would look like. That’s why these were temporary,” Golden said.

Golden said public art can brighten up a neighborhood and inspire residents.

Raymond Allen, a resident of the neighborhood, said he thinks the city wants to improve the area to make room for development.

“We know, when they improve the sidewalks, and the streets, we got to go. Poor people got to go,” Allen said.

Allen said when he moved to the city from Toledo in 1989 he watched gentrification take hold in the Short North, where he said rents went from affordable to unaffordable.

“In the next 10 years, you won’t see a poor person in the inner city. We all are going to be on the outer belt. North, east, west and south, we’re going to be in the outer belt. We ain’t going to be in the inner city,” Allen said.

But Golden and the assistant director of public service for the city said that isn’t the goal.

“They’re trying to improve where people live for the sake of the people who live there, they’re not trying to improve for future people who are to possibly move in,” Golden said.

Randy Borntrager, assistant director of public service, said the city is committed to lifting the area up to address the concerns raised by advocates for the area.

“The project is trying to uplift those concerns and shows that all neighborhoods should have the resources they need to have a safe, reliable transportation network that reduces serious injuries and fatalities,” he said.

In addition to the road project, other commitments to the area in the Hilltop neighborhood on the west side of the city include plans for a police substation, resources to fight human trafficking and bringing in a good collective.

Hilltop Area Commissioner and longtime resident Victoria Frye said the neighborhood needs attention to solve some complex issues, but there will be a balancing act to play between the type of development and change the residents do want to see and the types of changes that can price people out of their neighborhoods.

She said the area is lacking in businesses, services and other amenities. She wants to see more safety and security in the area, without over-policing. She wants to see more treatment options for substance use disorders, a solution for the trash situation, more driveways for the homes in the neighborhoods, more activities for young people, programs to help residents fix up their homes and a generally improved quality of life in the neighborhood.

Golden said the residents are resilient and the organizations working in the area to improve it are strong, committed advocates.

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News.