Wednesday, March 03, 1999

Mall's roof to come down

Middletown votes to start process

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MIDDLETOWN — It's time to raze the roof on the old City Centre Mall and reopen Central Avenue to traffic, city commissioners decided Tues day.

        By a 7-0 vote, they authorized City Manager Ron Olson to begin the design and creation process, seek costs and form a committee to oversee the project and advise commissioners.

        While commissioners indicated they favor parts of “Option D” — to remove the roof, reopen Central Avenue, leave North Broad Street enclosed and restore building facades — they made it clear that some parts of that option do not suit them.

        Some variations they may consider include maintaining a visual identity in the mall area, such as a clock tower, preservation of a fountain and enhanced parking.

        “We're at a crossroad, we need to make decisions,” said Commissioner Paul Nenni, who made the motion to get the process started. Mr. Nenni urged commissioners not to procrastinate anymore.

        As soon as they get detailed costs, they will likely decide to borrow the money now while interest rates are low, commissioners said, leaving them three years to use the money.

        The deteriorating covered mall, which was built in 1974 using mostly federal funds, needs $2 million to $4 million in repair and improvements. The $500,000 spent annually for maintenance will likely double within a decade, officials have said.

        City officials have discussed the fate of the mall since 1992, but the current city commis sion has been actively involved in resolving the issue since October. On Nov. 18, commissioners established a 90-day public input period to receive ideas and proposals via personal comment at meetings, regular mail, e-mail and telephone.

        Of the 102 telephone calls, 41 comment cards and 14 other written pieces of correspondence, 48 said raze the roof, 33 said do nothing and 38 had other suggestions, including an outlet mall and a skating rink.

        Commissioners heard de tails on 14 options, ranging from doing nothing except maintaining the covered mall to razing the roof to demolishing all the buildings.

        Most officials appear to agree that something in between is best for the city.

        To help commissioners make their mall decision, City Manager Ron Olson presented them with a massive three-ring binder his staff prepared,

        packed with detailed information on every aspect of the mall. It includes a chart of the six basic options, with variations that represent all 14 ideas, reports on each and criteria to analyze each. There's also research on how other communities have dealt with failing pedestrian malls.

        It lists questions presented by the staff to help commissioners determine if they have adequate information to see if they are ready to move forward with the three phases — removing the roof, picking an option and imple menting strategy.

        The city manager's office will develop a time line on Phase I, design and engineering costs; Phase II, the building process; and Phase III, developing a marketing plan for the mall and downtown properties.

        Mr. Olson said he expects a resolution prepared on establishing the committee by the March 16 commission meeting.

        “It's a top priority,” Mr. Olson said. “But it's a little early to put a time frame on the overall report.”

        Mr. Olson said he and his staff have much work to do evaluating mall data, looking at alternatives and options and coming up with detailed recommendations for commissioners.

        Commissioner Gerald Banks said, “There's work to be done to arrive at a solution that's acceptable to all. Let's get on with the process.”

        Commissioner Robert Hill said the city has already made history in giving residents 90 days to comment on the mall project. They had no input in the plan to put the roof on, he said.


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