UPDATE: December 1, 2017

Third Street Project  Push PostponedThird Street Project  Push Postponed

Back in May 2016, German Village Society held a forum about the Third Street project and about 100 neighbors attended. The gathering delivered a very straightforward, nearly unanimous message: Proceed on the Third Street project. Throw everything you’ve got at it, including the kitchen sink.

Boy did we do that. Under the volunteer leadership of Nelson Genshaft, we did a 12-month full-court press that included:

• countless meetings with elected officials and bureaucrats.

• a little money spent on lawyers to put us at the right tables.

• a Bill Lafayette economic snapshot of German Village.

• Finding true friends and advocates in City Councilmembers Liz Brown and Michael Stinziano.

It didn’t get our project funded. And now the mayor’s office is telling us “any promises made were made by a previous administration” – in spite of all those Ginther Administration hours of meetings. We’re told that we can come back later and ask again, but it isn’t a priority now for the city.

At the November 2017 German Village Society Board of Trustees meeting, Genshaft and Executive Director Shiloh Todorov asked the board for guidance on how to proceed. The consensus was to continue to monitor opportunities to bring the project back to city leaders, but to discontinue any significant outlay of resources to make it happen.

Todorov told the board it might make sense to reopen the campaign once the city turns its attention to the Third Street cap, or to making Livingston two-way. The board agreed that staff and volunteer time can be redirected to other advocacy until such time as Third Street might have a chance of rising up the city’s priority list.

In the meantime, Genshaft and Todorov await guidance on interim projects – such as pedestrian lighting, addition of bike lanes, ways to slow traffic on Third, and how property owners can work with the city to replace buried curbs and repair sidewalks.

Todorov subsequently submitted this letter to the City as an update.

UPDATE: December 1, 2016

As the year winds down, the City of Columbus is setting in place its spending plans for the upcoming year. German Village Society is paying close attention and taking part in the conversation as we try to assure our Third Street project will make the cut.

As a community that has long worked on the project – and since many of you have plans to help fund it – I thought you deserve an update. The Civic Relations Committee, led by Nelson Genshaft, has been in high gear since July.

You may recall that the community met at Barcelona Restaurant on May 21 for a 4-hour dialog. We wanted to know:

  • Should GVS focus attention and resources on Third Street as its No. 1 priority? The overwhelming majority of those in attendance – 92% – said yes.
  • Are you willing to help pay for the project? Again – overwhelming support at 84%. People said either that they would donate to the project, or those who own property on Third Street said they would sign the petition to tax themselves.
  • Is the project plan as finalized by the committee a workable solution? Here, too, the answer was yes. As a refresher, the City of Columbus has spent about $750,000 since 2010 to develop a comprehensive plan for improvements to South Third St.  The plan includes resurfacing the street, adding bike lanes to calm traffic, adding drainage both from buildings on the street and below the street surface, replacing badly worn sidewalks with new brick surfaces that will be supported by sandstone curbs, adding pedestrian lighting for better vision and removing some of the clutter of overhead utility lines.

Armed with that level of community input and support, the committee and I took meetings with all seven City Council members, three deputy chiefs in the Mayor’s Office, Auditor Hugh Dorrian, Rep. Kristin Boggs, Director of Development Steve Schoeny, Director of Public Works Jennifer Gallagher – and a LOT of people in those departments. We asked about a dozen Villagers to follow up our visits with letters and phone calls of their own in support of the project.

In October, Nelson and I made another round of calls and visits with key players. We also contracted with Bill Lafayette’s Regionomics to do a mini economic drivers study of German Village. Bill created a snapshot of data provided by our businesses and looked at publicly available data on income taxes to show just how much money German Village puts into the Columbus economy.

Third Street is the gateway to German Village and the South Side.  In fact, the Columbus Chamber, the South Side Area Commission and Schumacher Place have all agreed, and written letters to Council on our behalf.

The improvements that are planned are greatly needed and will benefit our residents.  Because German Village is a tourist destination and a recruiting tool for Columbus companies, we see this project as contributing not only to the safety of residents and improvement of property in the Village, but also to the economic development of the entire area.  The German Village Society is now asking the City to include the Third St. improvement project in the 2017 Capital Budget, which will be voted on in April by Council.  This would allow the City to go forward with funding for the design phase.  Following the design phase, we expect the City, with a contribution from residents of the Village, to make capital funds available for construction of the project.


Click to read our: THIRD STREET FAQ

Nearly 100 people who care about the Third Street revitalization and safety project attended a meeting on Saturday, May 21, as the neighborhood wrestled over what we can do, what we can afford, what we sacrifice if we embrace Third Street and go full-steam ahead – and what we sacrifice if we don’t.


Here’s a review of what we talked about:

It’s not bricks: When I got to German Village Society in October 2011, there was no one who didn’t shorthand the Third Street project as “rebrick Third Street.” In the final analysis, I don’t think we can afford to brick it. If you think we can afford it, or want to hear more about my point of view, join us May 21.

We aren’t burying the utilities: Here, too, a nice dream of making our beautiful lintels and cornices more visible by removing the cable and power line clutter. But burying the utilities costs $13 million and I just can’t see where that money will come from.

What it will do: In the final compromise, we scrape out the streetway and start over with asphalt that allows the drainage to work, fix every sidewalks (and make them all brick with varying patterns and styles) along the corridor, replace sandstone to its full height, add pedestrian lights (yes, some will undoubtedly shine into second-floor bedrooms), fix the drainage at the property and in the streets, clean up the clutter of signs and replant trees more appropriate for the boulevard that don’t uproot the sidewalks.

We need to spend the UIRF: That project, in today dollars, adds up to just under $7 million. In order to pay something closer to “today dollars” and keep the Third Street project on a fast track, we’ve been asked to surrender the remainder of our Urban Infrastructure Recovery Fund (UIRF) for 2015-19. Those are dollars German Village Society has been directing the city to spend on fixing brick streets across the neighborhood. In order to move Third Street to the next phase – design – we’re asked to use the $467,000 to pay for about half of the design phase. Moving design faster keeps us closer to the $7 million figure and keeps our “skin in the game” at the lower expense possible.

Third Street will be a major undertaking if we proceed. The Society’s resources – staff, volunteer time, fundraising effort, political capital – will need to be focused on this singular goal.

So ask yourself: If Third Street is the focus of German Village Society over the next 3-5 years as we work to bring it to fruition, will I continue to support German Village Society?

Read more on the history of the project here.

Read more about how the Third Street project affects our UIRF funds.

Link to the full March 31, 2015, OHM report.

As a reminder, German Village Society won a half-million dollar grant from the City of Columbus in December 2012 to take the results of a 2010 KKG-led study of Third Street (scroll to the bottom to see the KKG study in detail), and dig deeper.

3 German Village Society Executive Director Shiloh Todorov wrote a multi-part series of columns in This Week News to explain elements of the Third Street plan as the Society wraps up a half-million dollar UIRF engineering study in partnership with the City of Columbus.

10-15-15 Bricks, Burial And The Economics Of Third Street

If you’re following this series of columns on the Third Street project, you know we are getting close to finalizing the prices, processes and projects that will define our 16-year vision for the heart of the neighborhood. Our partners with the City of Columbus Public Services Department, working through the architecture and engineering firm OHM Advisors, have been answering  our  questions and going over details with the Civic Relations Committee and me since March.

32We’re working through curbs, trees, pedestrian lighting, drainage, signage and sidewalks. We think we are on track for a project that totals $8M-10M.

It’s important to understand that total figure, because the neighborhood will be expected to pay for part of it. That percentage hasn’t been negotiated with the City yet, but ever since I got here it has been clear from both city partners and volunteers involved in the project for 16 years – we’ve always been expected to put some “skin in the game.”

And that’s why the committee and I will recommend to the board that we SHOULD NOT choose to brick Third, nor should we insist on underground utility cables.

One thing that is critical to understand is that the city is willing to fund its percentage of project pieces that are “standard” – meaning, not an upgrade from what the city provides in other neighborhoods.

Bricks are not standard. Underground utility lines are not standard. When you see those features elsewhere in town, you can rest assured that the neighborhood – or in many cases on of the corporate neighbors – paid for those upgrades; or that they qualify for federal blight dollars. I’ve asked and asked and asked.

Here is OHM’s cost grid from the March 31 public presentation for the different costs for these  options:

Street Brick – $6.2m Reconstruction Asphalt – $1.2m Resurfaced Asphalt – $592,000
Utilities Bury – $15.6m 1-Side Pole – $3.1m 2-Side Poles – $1.8m

So, let’s say for the sake of argument that in the final negotiation, the City agrees to pay 75% of the “standard” pieces of our project. The asphalt reconstruction – meaning scraping down to make the drains work, not simply resurfacing – is $1.2M. So at 75%, the city pays $900,000 and we have to come up with $300,000. But if we choose to do brick, $900K is still all they’ll pay because the city does not have a standardized policy about installing brick streets. So our piece of an asphalt street is $300,000 and our piece of a brick street is that plus the difference between brick and asphalt, or $5.3M.

I don’t know how to find that $5.3M for bricks. We have a volunteer who lives in the Village and works for the Ohio Department of Development.  She put together a list of 14 state, regional and federal grants that might help us pay for pieces of the Third Street project. Not one of them will pay for bricks.

Plus, there are several major property owners on Third who do not want bricks – and since a portion of our “skin in the game” will likely include a small assessment on Third Street property owners, their opinion matters.

The math works the same for utilities at a MUCH higher cost to the neighborhood, and on top of that, buried utility lines are not historic. C’mon in and let us show you some old photos of Third – the wires are there. Our Third Street final proposal WILL, however, clean up the wires and replace the leaning poles.

Yes, we are a historic district whose charms are in no small part defined by our bricks streets. But we are also taxpayers and philanthropists in this Village and we need to shepherd our investments.

I welcome your feedback and creative thoughts to a different solution at Todorov@germanvillage.com.

10-8-15 Back To The Quarry; Visiting Our Curbs Original Home

I’m so eager to share with you about my trip – previewed in this column – to the birthplace of our German Village sandstone curbs.

You’ll recall that German Village Society Historic Preservation Advocate Sarah Marsom found Cleveland Quarries by deploying her preservation connections, and in July, we gave its dire

Standing on the high bank of the quarry outside Vermilion.
Standing on the high bank of the quarry outside Vermilion.

ctor of sales, Dave Dunn, a tour of our sandstone curbs. Three officials from the City of Columbus Department of Public Works, Civic Relations Chair Nelson Genshaft and neighbor and Commissioner Anthony Hartke all went along on the tour.

That tour produced a lot of questions: Was the current quarry product a match – in color and quality – to what is at our streetside now? How much sandstone is available and how long a lead time does the quarry need to make a delivery? What is the current best practice in curb dimensions to ensure durability while reducing price?

Answers to these questions and more were the purpose of my trip last week to the quarry. I was accompanied by two City of Columbus engineers and Deputy Director of Public Service Jennifer Gallagher. Dunn was our tour guide.

A tractor moves raw stone in the quarry.
A tractor moves raw stone in the quarry.

First, we visited the active sandstone quarry outside of Vermilion. Fascinating! They mine two shades of rock from that spot – a buff, that sits closer to the surface and our Amherst gray. We asked Dunn if we were looking into the pit from which German Village curbs were mined 100-150 years ago. He said we weren’t, but that he believes our curbs were taken from the same Berea vein six miles to the west. His company’s founders, 150 years ago, found the first sandstone near Berea and then bought all of the highest hills along the path of the vein so they could keep mining for decades.

So Dunn’s story suggests this is our sandstone. Additionally, Sarah found the OSU mineralogy lab and took a current sample of sandstone and a piece broken off a curb along Mohawk. Their geologist confirmed that it’s the same stuff!

Quantity does not seem to be a problem we need to be concerned with.

We asked about how quality control starts at the quarry. If, say, Columbus wants to order 5-foot sections of curb, when does Cleveland Quarry start controlling for mass, depth or the direction of the grain? It is with the pros in the mine.

Dunn then took us into town, where he showed us the giant saws that cut the raw stone into sections. The saws use a rubber band that is studded each inch with a band of diamonds to perform the actual cut. You can see video below.

A second saw, that looks much more like a conventional table saw but 9 times larger, cuts more precise angles. For instance, this is the saw (see video below) that would cut our curb ramps or driveways.

A final area of our tour showed where the finer, custom work gets done. For us, that’s radii at the curbs. The interesting part about German Village is that it would be difficult to standardize one curb radius given the way our streets don’t line up. But for the City to find the best cost savings, some set of standard radii would likely be needed.

City Engineer Hassan Zahran inspects sandstone cut in a similar way our radii would be treated.
City Engineer Hassan Zahran inspects sandstone cut in a similar way our radii would be treated.

The same goes for the width, height and depth of the curb. Sandstone is sold per ton, so the less you need that still offers resilience, the better off on price. Radii are roughly double the straight pieces.

There’s a lot of research, computation, engineering and politics before we get to an answer. But touring the quarry with our partners from the city and having a three-hour window to ask every question we could think of — not to mention geek out at how cool the whole process is — was a gift.

I’ll keep you posted!

9-24-15 Safety Components

Let’s talk safety as it relates to our plans to revitalize the Third Street corridor.

This is installment 3. Details about sandstone curbs and drainage can be found online at germanvillage.com if you need to catch up.

Third Street, when I joined German Village Society in 2011, had a short-hand reference people made about it: rebrick Third.

But at its essence, safety is the core of the Third Street revitalization project that Civic Relations Committee is now finalizing with our partners at the City of Columbus.

Of seven key elements of the project, four speak to improving safety along our village’s main street.

The first, pedestrian lighting, is a critical upgrade to the dark swaths of Third that don’t get much light from driver-focused lights that line only the east side of the street.

I don’t know how many police luncheons I’ve attended where Step 1 in personal safety as repeated over and over again by our officers is: turn on the lights.

Light is like kryptonite to criminals, and pedestrian lights along Third will help residents, employees and visitors alike feel more safe navigating on foot.

When OHM Advisors presented its findings to the public March 31, they delivered what we asked for — pricing on pedestrian lights that look just like the ones in Schiller Park.

Since then, we’ve realized we should have asked them – as experts – what the right kind of light is for the project, and they have taken that question back for further study. Results will be considered by the committee before the final recommendation is negotiated with the city of Columbus.

The second critical element of safety is fixing, flattening and closing the gaps in our sidewalks.

For the past six months, anyone keeping up with progress in our strategic plan knows that we are working hard to help property owners across the neighborhood fix sidewalks. (Step 1: understand that the sidewalk is a property owner’s responsibility to fix.)

On Third Street, we want the project to include brick sidewalks at every property. But to fit our historic feel, we want different guideline-approved patterns as you go from block to block and even property to property. By making the sidewalks part of the project, we can assure that they are sloped in such a way that they help improve the drainage issues into the sewer, AND we can make sure that gutters that might currently drain onto sidewalks can be rebuilt to drain under the walk into the street.

Just think about the safety improvement that creates — in summer, you don’t trip on a walk where the tree has uprooted the walk; in winter, proper drainage under the sidewalk will prevent those mini ice rinks so common in the corridor.

Third, an important safety feature will be the traffic-calming effect of narrowing the travel lanes on Third.

With two bike lanes and two parking lanes in the plan, the street will be narrower and hopefully safer with reduced speeds.

Finally, the Third Street improvements call for reduced clutter in our signage.

Whether you’re trying to park, figure out street-sweeping, looking for the speed limit (no, it is NOT 50) or searching for street signs, the current signs are a huge distraction to drivers.

Limiting the number of signs and making them clearer to read will vastly improve the drive and add a beautifying effect by reducing clutter.

9-17-15 Drainage & Sewers

Let’s talk more about Third Street. This time – let’s talk drainage.

(If you missed last week’s column, do go back and find the story of sandstone and my field trip to the quarry!)

If you think about Third Street as a beautification and preservation project, the drainage part isn’t too sexy. But when you think about Third Street like I do – as a safety and infrastructure investment – drainage is key to the project.

When I wrote the application in the summer of 2012 that won the grant from the city to undertake the engineering survey (that’s the piece OHM Advisors is currently finishing), I said: “We need only look back to July 24, 2011, for the last major flood event on Third Street. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that just 0.83 inches of rain fell on that date, but homes and businesses along Third Street suffered damage and at least one car parked on the thoroughfare was totaled as a result of water damage that rose as high as the steering wheel. Third Street floods in less than an inch of rain because years of asphalt paving have diminished the height of our stone curbs, compromised drainage routes and in many places nearly closed the sewer grates.”

What OHM has discovered over the past 18 months of surveying and preliminary engineering is that it isn’t JUST the asphalt building up and nearly closing the existing drainage inlets – it is debris from trees and garbage obstructing inlet openings and the lack of what the engineers call “curb-profile” to guide the storm water into the combined sewer inlets.  OHM continues to investigate if there are enough drains along Third to deal with intense short-term/long-term rainfall events. Their recommendation to the city, which will be completed this fall, includes potentially adding new catch basins along Third Street to allow the water to drain more efficiently.

When OHM and the city held the public presentation in Brent Warner Fest Hall back on March 31, they also showed a number of  reasons why drainage is an issue along the corridor and how some property owners have contributed to the ponding and pooling of water unintentionally.  OHM illustrated gutter downspouts and sump-pumps discharging water onto adjacent sidewalks, and the roadway which contributes to the overall storm water problems along Third Street.

The Third Street Preliminary Engineering Project will address all of these contributing issues, potentially adding additional drainage structures drains, correcting runoff from properties and opening the existing drains. The extent of the project is property-line-to-property-line along Third, therefore it is important to correct the sidewalk storm water runoff and direct that run off to the new curb and roadway drainage system that will dramatically improve walkability in the winter-time reducing some of the ice rinks we currently have in some spots.

As a bonus, one engineer connected to the project told me that improved drainage, new catch basins and hoods on Third Street will be a partial solution to some of the odor issues plaguing the neighborhood.

Together, the drainage fixes total about $750,000 of the total project that German Village Society is advocating for along Third.

9-10-15 – Sandstone Curbs

Be jealous.

I am going on a “How It’s Made”-style field trip to Cleveland Quarries in Vermillion, OH, on September 24.

The City of Columbus has the much-rumored (and actually existing) sandstone curb bank. It is the place where Villagers for decades have had the opportunity to replace their own curbs from repossessed sandstone removal projects elsewhere. The bank is down to, we are told, not much inventory.

As we work on improving sidewalks, and on finalizing our plans for Third Street, we wanted to know what it would take to find more sandstone. Several city officials had told us they weren’t aware of quarries that would match the color or quality of the type you see at our curbsides now.

This felt like an opportunity for us to demonstrate our true partnership with the City. We offered to see if we could research a suitable sandstone vendor.

Sarah found Cleveland Quarries by deploying her preservation connections, and we were soon giving its Director of Sales, Dave Dunn, a tour of German Village. Dave said the unique qualities of sandstone allowed him to identify the sandstone in our neighborhood with what he has in Vermillion. Additionally, he was able to find sales records from Cleveland Quarries to the City of Columbus dating back to at least 1905 (the rest of the records were recently donated to their local history museum!).

Eureka! Not only is the same sandstone still available, it’s right down the road!

In July, two City of Columbus engineers went on a tour of German Village’s sandstone curbs with Dave Dunn and to gather samples for testing. We all peppered Dave with a lot of questions: Is the current sandstone the same quality as the original? How much supply do you have and how quickly could you respond to orders? Do you have the capability to cut the radii that are each unique in German Village? What’s it going to cost? How long will it take to go from bright gray to looking more like what you see out there now?

Since July, the engineers have been running their tests. Dave has been pricing the cuts and the straight pieces, working with potential local suppliers and reviewing the city’s contract paperwork – should he get a green light. To answer the quality and coloring questions, we are going up to see for ourselves!

The sandstone curb is one of two remaining questions the German Village Society is trying to finalize before we complete the Third Street plan. The other is pedestrian lighting options.

We want to maintain the historic fabric of our curbs, and we may have found the vendor that can help us. We can tell just by walking our dogs that sandstone has a 100-year longevity and concrete is less than 20. It’s our job as advocates to help the city see that the early investment pays off over the years.

That said, there is an existing template in Columbus that – if we get the green light for sandstone – the city is likely to duplicate. Granite curbs have been approved in downtown, and to their credit, our city partners have learned a lot about natural curbing that can help us get sandstone right.

However, granite is an approved OPTION downtown, not the go-to building material for curbs. Property owners who wish to invest in granite for their curbs will always get a yes, but they have to pay the up-charge between concrete and granite.



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