Get in the know about the coming year, from Huntington Park to the best and worst scenarios for the city budget (tax hikes?) and the housing market. Plus: Will Mayor Mike Coleman shave his mustache?

Get in the know about the coming year, from Huntington Park to the best and worst scenarios for the city budget (tax hikes?) and the housing market. Plus: Will Mayor Mike Coleman shave his mustache?

Hot political campaigns

Some big GOP stars are showing interest in challenging Ted Strickland in 2010. (Which means, of course, that campaigning will start this year.) For instance, former U.S. Rep. John Kasich, the one-time presidential hopeful, is publicly mulling a run for governor. Meanwhile, observers have bandied about a couple more names-former U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine and former U.S. Rep. Rob Portman.

All three candidates, despite their credentials, would face a tough challenge in unseating the popular Strickland. Besides, they each carry some baggage. Statewide voters rejected DeWine in 2006, Kasich has spent the past eight years as an investment banker-not exactly a popular profession these days-and Portman served in the reviled Bush administration as budget director. "It probably would be better to work for a big tobacco company than work for Bush," Democratic consultant Greg Haas says.

Though it's yet to attract much publicity, another 2010 Ohio political race might be more intriguing. In recent head-to-head polls by Public Policy Polling based in North Carolina, U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, perhaps the state's most popular politician of the past quarter century, has been running behind two potential Democratic opponents, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher and Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, and tied with another, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles.

Brunner seems unlikely to run (she says through a spokesman that she's concentrating on getting reelected in 2010), but the political newspaper Roll Call reported in November that Ryan is considering a challenge and that Fisher hasn't "publicly ruled out a bid."

-Dave Ghose

The new police chief

Columbus leaders face some difficult circumstances as they search for a new head of the city police department.

According to civil service rules, Columbus public safety director Mitchell Brown must promote a deputy chief or a commander from within the department to replace James Jackson, who will officially step down as chief in March. Two more requirements-a bachelor's degree and a minimum five years of service in top leadership positions-also shrink the pool. Further, some candidates just might not want the job, especially if they have to forfeit pension payments accrued as part of a deferred retirement plan that was launched in 2003.

But it's possible the civil service commission could untie Mayor Mike Coleman's hands. In an Oct. 30 editorial, the Dispatch suggested that the commission change the rule restricting the pool of candidates to current Columbus police employees.

So far, city officials haven't asked the commission to consider the alteration-and they were keeping mum about their plans in November-but if they do, they might face a rank-and-file revolt. "We absolutely would object, and we would try to gain support from the citizens," says Jim Gilbert, president of the Columbus F.O.P. local.

Gilbert contends that the change would represent a contract violation-commanders are represented by the F.O.P.-and could lead to lawsuits and labor grievances. "I think it's a good morale boost for the troops to know that they are working with somebody who has risen through the ranks and put their time in with the department," Gilbert says.

-Dave Ghose

Opening the Lincoln Theatre

Plenty of people scoffed at the idea of spending millions to restore the once vibrant Lincoln Theatre after decades of neglect. And for good reason. The Lincoln, the cornerstone of a bustling African-American community in the 1930s and '40s, had fallen into disrepair just like its near-east-side neighborhood.

But if things go as planned, the Lincoln-after years of painstaking progress-will be alive again sometime in June with a grand reopening. There are plenty of signs it will happen. Renovation as of early December was halfway completed. CAPA, which runs the Palace, Ohio and Southern theaters, is managing the 574-seat facility. Acclaimed dancer, choreographer and director Maurice Hines is the artistic director in residence. Funding for the $13 million project keeps flowing: about $350,000 from the state and $500,000 in a matching grant from the national Kresge Foundation, in addition to the $10 million already in hand from the city of Columbus and Franklin County.

Power attorney Larry James, head of the Lincoln Theatre Association, says a week's worth of local, regional and national entertainment will be scheduled, but nothing can be set until a completion date is determined. The theater will offer more than just performances: There also will be recording, broadcasting and rehearsal space, as well as the Columbus Jazz Group's educational arm, the Jazz Academy.

James, who was instrumental in the creation of the neighboring King Arts Complex, says people are now telling him, "You must be proud. I say, 'I'm tired.' " At the opening, he adds, "I know there will be tears. I hope I can be discreet in mine."

-Ray Paprocki

Huntington Park

Columbus Clippers general manager Ken Schnacke begs forgiveness for the bad baseball pun, but he thinks Huntington Park is going to be a grand slam. The shiny new ballpark in the Arena District replaces beloved and well-worn Cooper Stadium, the oldest in minor-league baseball at 76 years.

But baseball purists shouldn't fret. There still will be Dime-a-Dog Night, 60 percent of the seats will cost $10 or less and parking will remain cheap.

That's where tradition ends and a new baseball era begins. The new stadium is a baseball fan's modern-day haven, with an LED scoreboard, rooftop bleachers, a right field home run terrace, a fountain for children to splash in and views of the action from every angle (even at the concessions stands). "This is about to become the Camden Yards of Triple A baseball," Schnacke says, referring to the fabled home of the Baltimore Orioles.

And then there's the matter of affiliation. It took decades for it to happen, but the Cleveland Indians finally have made the Columbus Clippers their top minor-league club. That means players who get called to the big leagues will only have to travel 140 miles up the road and fans will have an easier time keeping track of them once they leave.

Huntington Park opens April 18 when the Clippers take on their state rivals, the Toledo Mud Hens. Schnacke doesn't predict wins and losses, but he does promise this: Fans are going to have a good time in the new ballpark.

-April Johnston

The big bike tour

Columbus has some big expectations for Pelotonia. Thanks to a $12.5 million donation from NetJets, the Central Ohio charity bike tour hopes to raise $4.5 million and attract some 2,000 riders and 1,000 volunteers in its first year. With planners leaning toward debuting the bike-a-thon in late August, that leaves executive director Tom Lennox and his small staff little time to put together the biggest bike event in Ohio history. "It's a mad rush," he says.

In the fall, planners announced two circuits for riders-a 50-mile single-day loop or a two-day 190-mile tour, with an overnight stay about 80 miles outside of Columbus. (Accommodations haven't been found yet, but Lennox says a college campus would be a good fit.)

Late this fall, Lennox and his staff were looking for a web designer to improve the nonprofit's website, pelotonia.org, so it can accommodate open registration in January and begin to accept donations. He also was reaching out to several groups at Ohio State, which, along with NetJets, is expected to provide many volunteers and cyclists. (All proceeds will go to the university's cancer program.)

So far, folks from as far away as Colorado, New York and Massachusetts have committed to riding in the event, and several local bigwigs-including Mayor Mike Coleman, Gov. Ted Strickland and OSU president Gordon Gee-have said they will participate.

Meanwhile, Lennox is trying to recruit Lance Armstrong, who is expected to make his Tour de France comeback in July, a month before the first Pelotonia. Lennox says the participation of Armstrong, who has ties to both OSU and NetJets, would have a big impact. "It validates the event not only from a cycling standpoint, but as an organization in position to make a difference in the funding of cancer research," he says.

-Dave Ghose

Grandview Yard

It's hard to imagine that a big chunk of land on West Goodale Boulevard in Grandview, once home to the Big Bear warehouse, will soon host the west side's version of Easton, with 200 million square feet of shops, restaurants, offices and apartments. Despite the tanking economy, however, that day could be closer than many people think.

Nationwide Realty Investors president Brian Ellis says the company plans to break ground on Grandview Yard in the second quarter of 2009. The first phase of construction likely will be commercial buildings that could house a hotel, restaurants and medical and professional offices. Residential construction will come later, after Grandview Yard has established an environment that would attracts renters and, in a few years, buyers.

"We really want to create a neighborhood," Ellis says. "This is going to be a place where each individual component adds value to the whole."

-April Johnston

City Center

The Columbus Downtown Development Corp.'s Amy Taylor is coy when asked about plans for City Center, the nine acres of retail space sitting nearly empty in the heart of downtown. She hopes to make a big announcement in the first quarter of 2009, but won't discuss details. (Other sources say expect to hear news during the first week of February, but the announcement won't involve the state of Ohio, which was rumored last year to want to use it for office space.)

The shopping center, once the city's jewel, lost its business to trendy suburban malls over time and its corporate owner to late rental payments. In the hands of the city and the CDDC since fall of 2007, it has been at the core of much speculation about downtown development, from office space to retaining its retail roots. Taylor officially maintains the city and CDDC are open to anything, as long as it's economically feasible and benefits Columbus. "Let's just say there's nothing that's off the table," she says.

-April Johnston

Streetcars

Last spring, Mayor Mike Coleman pushed hard for his big idea about streetcars rolling down a stretch of High Street to spark an economic boom. He was armed with a long list of endorsements, results from various studies and a plan to pay for the $103 million proposal.

But an uproar ensued, with even the usually compliant Columbus City Council questioning the cost and viability. One prominent critic was John P. McConnell, majority owner of the Blue Jackets. On the notion to subsidize the plan by adding a ticket surcharge to events at Nationwide Arena (home of the hockey team), he said, "I think it's insane."

The issue soon disappeared from view. Yet, it's not a dead deal, says Mike Brown, the city's urban ventures coordinator. He says officials have hired two firms, HDR of Omaha, Nebraska, and Holland & Knight of Washington, D.C., to "help to plan and implement funding," and the issue will be back to the public in 2009 for more discussion. Brown says the controversy sparked a conversation about whether "we want to be a car city forever."

-Ray Paprocki

Wendy's

With the corporate upheaval of recent years apparently behind it, the struggling burger chain finally appears ready to focus on a turnaround. Still, don't expect huge changes-say, roast beef on the menu-now that its merger with Arby's is complete.

Instead, look for a renewed emphasis on operational details, such as improving the quality of food, developing new products and figuring out how to effectively break into the breakfast market. Also, an old Wendy's mainstay, the value menu, may play an important strategic role, especially if the economy slips into a deep recession in 2009.

"If customers are cutting back on their food expenditures, offering a good value is a smart move," says Wendy's spokesman Denny Lynch.

-Dave Ghose

Gordon Gee

The president of Ohio State will focus on what he calls the "first truly comprehensive facilities master plan" in the school's history. Two important components of that idea involve the dormitories and the ever expanding medical complex. The former regards how to house all those sophomores he wants to keep on campus, and the latter centers on, in part, alleviating traffic problems and building projects. The university's point person on the huge undertaking will be senior vice president Jeff Kaplan, working with Sasaki, an international planning firm out of Boston.

Aside from that, Gee will charm constituents, raise money, battle with the state over higher education funding in a tight budget and collect the highest salary for a public university president in the country.

-Ray Paprocki

The Columbus Partnership

The high-powered group of business honchos, led by the city's top Titan, Limited Brands CEO and founder Les Wexner, now has decided to focus strongly on economic development. When a major employer, NetJets, nearly abandoned the city for North Carolina last year, Wexner said he was disappointed by the economic development happening at any level: city, county and state, as well as the chamber of commerce. So look for the Partnership, as president Bob Milbourne diplomatically puts it, to "see how we can help."

Milbourne also says the Partnership will turn its attention to two other areas: healthcare costs (working with key large employers on improving quality and saving money) and downtown development (collaborating on a master plan for all of the various districts of the center city).

-Ray Paprocki

Dave Ghose and April Johnston are associate editors for and Ray Paprocki is the editor of Columbus Monthly.