Talking Points for 2011
Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger. Photo by John Hulkenberg.
Columbus Symphony: The new maestro
This past year was a pretty good one for the Columbus Symphony. After nearly a decade of turmoil—budget deficits, management upheaval, a devastating musicians’ strike—the orchestra finished in the black in 2010 after handing over administrative responsibilities to CAPA, the owner of the Ohio Theatre. And new music director Jean-Marie Zeitouni hit all the right notes after his hiring was announced in October. “I’ve been in many meetings, with different people—management, players, the union, a little bit of both,” Zeitouni says. “The understanding and the desire to get along and to move forward is so present. It’s really something that is impressive.”
With the financial picture clearing up somewhat, Zeitouni’s main task as the ensemble’s artistic leader is to connect with audiences. Though young, the 36-year-old Montreal native bears a confident and polished public presence, with good command of English (something his two predecessors, Alessandro Siciliani and Junichi Hirokami, lacked). In November, he worked with orchestra leaders in putting together the 2011-2012 classical season, which he hopes will include more outreach concerts in nontraditional venues. He also envisions creating an educational workshop for businesspeople to sell them on the joys of classical music. “It’s not the ivory tower experience just for the elite, but it’s actually a great emotional and artistic experience for everybody,” he says.
Zeitouni signed a four-year contract to lead the orchestra. Though he will maintain a busy guest-conducting schedule elsewhere, he intends to make Columbus his home, unlike Hirokami, who lived out of a hotel during his short and tumultuous stint in Columbus, spending most of his time in his native Japan. Zeitouni says he likes what he’s seen of Columbus so far. He hopes to either buy or rent in the Short North (“it has the right energy for me”), and he showed his commitment to his new city while watching the Blue Jackets beat his hometown Montreal Canadiens in early November.
“At the second intermission, I went to the shop and bought myself a Blue Jackets jersey,” he says with a laugh. “I’m transitioning right now.”
Clintonville: Heart troubles
Clintonville residents take pride in their neighborhood and will go to great lengths to defend it. That spirit, both a blessing and a curse, has made the north side community one of the strongest in Columbus, but it’s also left it with a hole in its middle.
The intersection of North Broadway and High Street, the heart of the neighborhood, long has been an unattractive, traffic-choked gateway. Both developers and city officials have tried to change things, but Clintonville residents have blocked their efforts. In the latest neighborhood dispute, residents of North Broadway sued the city in November to stop the addition of a turn lane to the intersection, a proposal that has divided the neighborhood for nearly two years.
Still, change is coming. This year, the Kroger grocery store on the northwest corner will undergo a remodeling that will include sprucing up the streetscape in front of the store, says John DeFourny, chairman of the Clintonville Area Commission. Also, DeFourny suggests a possible compromise between neighbors and the city over the left-turn controversy. He says if the city sweetened the deal by agreeing to add arches along High Street in Clintonville (like the ones in the Short North and north campus) as part of the project, then residents might accept the controversial turn lane. “We’re selling this left turn lane awfully cheap,” he says.
Meanwhile, the demolition of the Clinton Theater at the southwest corner of the intersection has renewed interest in redeveloping that section, DeFourny says. Preservationists have been trying for years to save the long vacant building, but the structure finally came down this fall after a judge declared it a public nuisance. “Now that the building is gone—and the preservationist army won’t appear from the forest in defense—there are dozens of entities now studying that corner,” says DeFourny, also the owner of a Clintonville real estate agency.
Eliza Ho and her architect husband, Tim Lai, both of whom were involved in the last-ditch effort to save the theater in 2010, now are exploring the possibility of redeveloping the land. She says they are working with another architect, whom she declined to name, to come up with a financially viable plan. She envisions a mix of condos, retail and office with a multipurpose community space. “That is my dream,” she says.
Columbus elections: Can the Republicans break through?
Columbus voters may put Mike Coleman in the record books. If he wins reelection in November, he’ll become the longest continually serving mayor in Columbus history. “One of the questions that Columbus voters will have to decide in 2011 is whether they want to have a mayor for life,” says Brad Sinnott, the chairman of the Central Committee of the Franklin County Republican Party.
So far, that’s been a pretty easy choice. In a heavily Democratic city, Coleman is a formidable force. He’s faced little competition since his first mayoral race in 1999 and beat his last Republican challenger, Bill Todd, by 40 percentage points. Still, Republicans are talking about offering a “competitive” alternative in this year’s race, building off the momentum of their victorious 2010 election. “Columbus is not immune to the national and state trends,” Sinnott says.
He declined to name potential candidates, but he says work is well underway to find a Coleman challenger. The goal is to have the Republican slate—including City Council candidates—in place by mid January, Sinnott says. Terry Casey, a political strategist and former GOP county chairman, says party head Doug Preisse will have an easier time attracting good candidates this time because of the 2010 GOP sweep of statewide offices, including the governor’s. “It gives Doug a better ability in terms of saying to some potential candidates, there’s some people who can be friendly and help you,” Casey says.
Moreover, a strong Republican mayoral challenger would help in achieving the party’s more realistic goal: winning a seat on City Council. Four slots are open in 2011—the ones vacated by Charleta Tavares and Mike Mentel (no replacements had been appointed as of early December), as well as seats held by Hearcel Craig and Andy Ginther. If the mayor must spend more of his own money defending his job, then he can’t share as much of his campaign wealth with his Democratic council allies, weaker fundraisers than him. “If we don’t run anybody who is a good mayoral candidate, then it’s going to be a bloodbath, more than likely,” says Matt Ferris, a former GOP council candidate.
Ferris might be the party’s best shot in 2011. Two years ago, he came within 1,100 votes of becoming the first Republican on City Council since Jennette Bradley resigned in 2003. But Ferris, a financial adviser, says work responsibilities might prevent him from launching a second council campaign. “Right now, I’m leaning toward not running,” he says.
Downtown parks: Reading rooms and a restaurant
City boosters long have considered the Scioto River something of a wasted resource in downtown Columbus. Pedestrians have little access to the water, and government buildings occupy valuable riverfront real estate.
But change is coming. In July, the much anticipated Scioto Mile will debut. The $40 million riverfront makeover includes a leafy promenade along Civic Center Drive and a refurbished Bicentennial Park that includes a new band shell and a 15,000-square-foot water fountain. Terri Leist, assistant director for the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, says the fountain, the biggest in Central Ohio, can create mist so fine “you can actually project a movie on it.”
The park also will address a frequent complaint about the downtown riverfront—the lack of a restaurant on the water. The new park includes a glass shell that will house a casual eatery, operated by the Columbus Brewing Co., with good views of the fountain, the bandstand and the river. There will be seating for about 140 inside, plus a patio with room for about 80 more.
Meanwhile, another eagerly awaited park, Columbus Commons, is scheduled to open in May. Construction on the green space, which replaces the razed City Center mall, was scheduled to finish in December, but officials plan to hold a grand opening in the spring after putting the final touches on landscaping and the installation of a carousel.
Backers want to make the park a destination for both active and laid-back recreation. Activities will include kickball, croquet, flag football and even tug of war. Also planned are both intimate lunch-hour concerts and “showcase-type” performances, says Amy Taylor, the chief operating officer for the Downtown Development Corp./Capitol South. She says her organization is in talks with CAPA about programming events at the park.
Two “outdoor reading rooms” (one for adults, one for children) will be stocked with books, magazines and other reading materials. Modeled after a successful program in New York City’s Bryant Park and other cities, the rooms will operate on the honor system, for the most part. “There will be a volunteer or staff member to assist people, but it’s worked in a lot of places,” Taylor says. “People have found that the tables and chairs stay where they are as well. People feel this is their park, and they’re proud of it.”
Wonderland: Make or break
The feel-good story of Wonderland faces a big test in 2011. If the ambitious arts proposal is going to take hold, backers must start collecting something more valuable than enthusiastic press clippings.
The old Wonder Bread factory in Italian Village needs a multimillion-dollar makeover (scheduled to begin this summer) if it is going to become an artistic and entrepreneurial incubator for Columbus. That’s a challenging proposition, especially in today’s economic climate, but Wonderland’s band of idealistic supporters isn’t backing down. “Isn’t that generally how it works where artists and entrepreneurs are often the ones willing to take the risks to make the economy better?” says Adam Brouillette, the executive director of the nonprofit Wonderland Columbus and manager of the artist collective Junctionview Studios. “That’s essentially what we’re leveraging.”
To that end, Brouillette is planning a capital campaign to raise between $7 million and $9 million to cover construction and start-up costs and allow the nonprofit to purchase the building from developer Kevin Lykens, who bought the factory for $800,000 last year from Interstate Bakeries Corp., Wonder Bread’s parent. (In November, Lykens was negotiating a lease with the nonprofit; Brouillette said he expected the deal to be done by the end of 2010.)
Brouillette says he’s looking at a wide range of fundraising options, including grants and corporate donations, though he’s wary of giving outside entities too much influence. “We wouldn’t want it to be AT&T Wonderland,” he says. Based on the strong public support the idea has received, Brouillette hopes to draw on a large pool of small donations. The broad support, in turn, might give the proposal credibility with major contributors, Brouillette says.
He estimates the project will need a minimum of $4 million to $5 million to open by the target date of Jan. 1, 2012 (in time for the city’s bicentennial). Once it’s open, however, the nonprofit anticipates making money quickly by renting space to some 150 tenants, which Brouillette expects to have no trouble finding. “When we originally announced the project, we had over 1,000 people sign up and say they wanted to be tenants or users of the building,” he says.
Still, locking up tenants is just one piece of the puzzle. Creating the right mix is just as important. “Finding people who have money and want space isn’t the objective,” he says. “It’s finding the best groups to serve the model that we’re trying to set up.”
Mobile kitchens: More on the go?
Food trucks were popping up in unusual places around town in 2010, such as gas station parking lots, a sidewalk near a campus intersection and outside a wine shop. (Columbus even saw its first cupcake truck.) The appearance of mobile food options is part of a growing national trend, with even a few established restaurants taking their food to the streets via mobile kitchens. Based on the number of traveling food options that have appeared the past several months, it’s highly likely we’ll see more in 2011.
Justin Boehme, owner of Da Levee, says he launched the Cajun shop’s food cart to help with advertising. For him, it was more advantageous to get out and serve food to consumers than to invest money in traditional ads. He offers the same staples from his Short North shop, such as ropa vieja and versions of étouffée. This year, he plans to hire someone to run the food cart full-time, with stops scheduled for downtown, Clintonville and the campus area.
Kevin Caskey, executive chef at Skillet, says its mobile kitchen began in June 2009, several months before the German Village restaurant opened. It let people know Skillet was coming soon and “now we see it as a venue to get us demographics that may not be able to spend what we ask at the restaurant,” he explains, adding that price points at the truck are between $5 and $7 compared to prices in the mid teens at the restaurant. Although Caskey says the mobile kitchen will be parked during the winter, the previous months were busy with gigs outside of House Wine in Worthington and O’Reilly’s Auto Parts near campus. “We’re following the street food theme with our mark and our brand.
Bethia Woolf, founder of streeteatscolumbus.com, who also runs food tours through Columbus Food Adventures, says there are a lot of contributing factors to the food truck craze. She says it’s a national trend, partly because people want to start businesses with much less overhead than an actual restaurant. “It’s informal, a good value and kind of fast food, but not eating at a chain,” she says.
The Blue Jackets' budget: Any sign of victory?
No one thought solving the Blue Jackets money woes would be easy when the club’s shaky financial footing rose to the top of the Columbus civic agenda more than a year ago. Today, that’s become even more apparent as team management, business leaders and city officials continue to struggle to work out a deal to boost the club’s bottom line.
Not much public headway has been made other than Ohio State entering a contract in May to manage both Nationwide Arena and the Schottenstein Center through June 2011, a relatively small cost-cutting move. “This is an extremely complicated issue that is going to require a lot of different folks to buy into,” says Dan Williamson, the spokesman for Columbus Mayor Mike Coleman.
The main players—the city, the Blue Jackets and Nationwide (the primary owner of Nationwide Arena)—were tight-lipped in November and early December on the status of the talks, which are being led by former Capitol South head John Rosenberger. In fact, none has made any significant public statements since Blue Jackets president Mike Priest told the Dispatch in July that new casino revenue might be the key to saving his club. When asked if casino money was on the table in the talks, Williamson says, “There are a number of things on the table.”
Beginning in 2012, casino money should flow into Central Ohio government coffers, with the city of Columbus as the biggest projected benefactor. According to Penn National Gaming (the developer of the Central Ohio casino), Columbus could annually receive $16.2 million in casino taxes, $8 million from a revenue pool designated for “host cities” and an undetermined amount of city income taxes on the projected 2,000 casino employees.
The host-city fees and the income tax, however, depend on the casino accepting annexation into the city of Columbus. During the campaign for the successful constitutional amendment that moved the proposed casino from the Arena District to the west side, annexation (required if the casino wants to get city water) never seemed to be in doubt, but that has changed in recent weeks. Penn National representatives appear to be using annexation as a bargaining chip to score tax breaks from the city. Penn National also has said publicly it wants help in selling its Arena District property that it no longer needs. When asked if the Arena District land is part of the annexation talks, Penn National spokesman Bob Tenenbaum says, “We are just not discussing the specifics.”
Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets continue to watch dollars drain away.
The growing budget gap
When John Kasich takes over the governor’s office in January, he and new state legislators will inherit what is likely to become the largest budget deficit in Ohio’s history—an estimated $8 billion once federal stimulus money begins to run out.
Although the two-year state budget has nearly doubled the past two decades—to $52 billion from $27.2 billion in 1991 (and $44.2 billion in 2001)—Kasich’s spokesman Rob Nichols calls the problem manageable. Kasich, a Republican, was credited, in part, with balancing the federal budget in the 1990s as a U.S. congressman.
After Kasich’s swearing-in as Ted Strickland’s successor on Jan. 10, he’ll be greeted by a mostly receptive Ohio General Assembly. Republicans already control the Ohio Senate and regained a majority of Ohio House seats (59 of 99). “They really do want to focus on the economy, jobs and the regulatory environment,” says Herb Asher, political science professor emeritus at Ohio State University. “Potentially, it can be a very exciting time. The governor has a wonderful opportunity to restructure and reform government.”
Kasich has promised to reduce the size of government, privatize some agencies and rein in the state’s labor unions, which protect about four-fifths of the 50,000-member workforce.
The Batchelder/Niehaus era begins
There’s a changing of the guard at the Statehouse, and it’s mostly good news for Kasich. Since Republicans won a majority of seats in the Ohio House on Nov. 2, Armond Budish, a Democrat from Cuyahoga County, is now a one-term House speaker. Republicans selected state Rep. William Batchelder of Medina County, a former judge with 35 years of legislative experience, as the next speaker, effective Jan. 3.
In the Ohio Senate, president Bill Harris of Ashland County reached his term limit, so the GOP caucus promoted the second-ranked Republican, Tom Niehaus of Clermont County, to become the upper chamber’s next president for 2011-’12.
Niehaus says he looks forward to working with Kasich and Batchelder “to pass a balanced state budget, get our state economy back on track and create an optimal climate for creating good-paying jobs for Ohioans.”
The new Senate president is described as hard-working, a good listener, direct and open with senators from both political parties. Niehaus honors privacy in delicate mediation, something Kasich is bound to prefer, but may be more accessible to the media and less suspicious of reporters than other legislators since he’s a former weekly newspaper publisher. He says he already has had good discussions with Kasich and has worked well with Senate minority leader Capri Cafaro, a Democrat from near Youngstown.
The knowledgeable and highly respected Batchelder is ultra conservative and fiercely partisan, although he’s open to suggestions from both sides of the aisle. He’s been accessible and talkative to the press, but it’s uncertain whether he’ll be more cautious when he makes public statements as the speaker—a position he has long coveted. “He always wanted to be speaker and damned if he didn’t do it this year,” says fellow House rep Louis Blessing Jr. of Hamilton County, who adds, “He knows all the issues and explains what everything means,” but isn’t “shoving things down [legislators’] throats. People trust him and follow his lead.”
Dennis Willard, former bureau chief of the Akron Beacon Journal and now a political consultant, once gave Batchelder the nickname Austin Powers, after the movie character. It was because of his wide smile, wild mannerisms (flailing his arms during floor speeches), wavy and puffy hairstyle, wide-brimmed/old-fashioned eyeglasses and sing-song speech patterns.
The apportionment board has five members: the governor, the attorney general, the auditor and one representative from each party in the Ohio General Assembly. With the Republican sweep on Election Day, their party will control four of those five seats. The board redraws 99 Ohio House districts and 33 Ohio Senate districts based on the new U.S. Census numbers.
In addition, the Ohio House and Senate will redraw congressional district lines, which is another reason Republicans were eager to win back control of the House on Nov. 2. Ohio is almost certain to lose two congressional seats. That means the already shrunken number of Ohio Democrats in the U.S. House—their numbers will go from 10 to five come January—could drop even more.
The process won’t happen anytime soon. It may be months before the final census data is available.
Is Arniel the answer?
It’s still early, and let’s just say we’ve been down this road before, but after a red-hot November (followed by a five-game losing streak), the Blue Jackets are in the playoff hunt. Under new coach Scott Arniel, the Blue Jackets are showcasing the younger players, who, at times, bring energy to the ice. Who knows, this may even ignite the dwindling fan base and cover up all those empty blue seats.
What will be the Terrelle Pryor legacy?
Think back to that glorious March day in 2008 when Terrelle Pryor committed to Buckeye Nation. Anything—including multiple national championships and Heisman trophies—seemed possible. How quickly the time has flown and, while Pryor began to live up to some of the hype with a steady and sometimes spectacular junior season, fans hope his senior year will end on the highest note. “I want to have a legacy here, you know?” Pryor recently said—and a national title would do it.
Who will replace Guillermo?
Age, injuries and a hefty contract added up to end the Guillermo Barros Schelotto era in Columbus, which included the 2008 MLS championship. It’s going to be tough for the Crew to find a replacement who can beat defenders one-on-one and create space and scoring opportunities for his teammates. These are rare and special talents.
Will the Freshmen Four make a Final Four run?
The hype began soon after Ohio State University basketball coach Thad Matta signed four of the top 100 high school players in the nation: Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas, Aaron Craft and Jordan Sibert. Toss in a solid returning nucleus and expectations are off the chart. However, if fans have learned anything from recent college basketball history, it’s that the Freshman Four might only be together for one year, as in the Oden-Conley-Cook one-and-done trio that led the Buckeyes to the Final Four in 2007.
Will their season end in disappointment again?
With all five starters back, led by player-of-the-year candidate Jantel Lavender and star point guard Samantha Prahalis, the Ohio State women basketballers have the talent to avoid another early round NCAA tourney upset/exit and make a Final Four run. Then again, this is what everyone thought last year.
Will the wheels of the race cars go round and round?
The fate of the much-discussed and controversial Cooper Stadium racetrack is in the hands of Columbus City Council, which will vote yea or nay on the $40 million project at some point in 2011.