It's been nearly a decade in the making: In 2001 the American Public Works Association (APWA) notified Columbus, Ohio, that the city would host its 2009 annual convention, or “Congress.” Now that it's just months away, Randy Bowman isn't subtle about his enthusiasm, happily describing one project after another that his home town has completed since the announcement eight years ago.
And most have several things in common: They were designed with an eye toward sustainability and built through public-private partnerships.
In February, Bowman was named administrator of the newly created Division of Mobility Options. “It's targeted toward active living and encourages mass transit to reduce congestion and improve air quality,” says the president of the association's Ohio Chapter. “Public-private partnerships are part of the city's strategy for succeeding with sustainable projects.”
Two such projects are highlighted in workshop tours on Wed., Sept. 16:
In 2007, the local Historic Resource Commission approved the city's $44 million proposal to replace the 70-year-old multiple-span, open-spandrel, concrete-deck arch Main Street bridge with a single-ribbed steel arch inclined at a 10-degree angle. The bridge has one 18-foot-wide pedestrian/cyclist path and a 35-foot-wide, three-lane deck for vehicles.
“The bike path actually cantilevers away from the vehicular portion of the bridge deck,” Bowman says. “It has organic qualities.”
To make streets accessible for all users rather than just vehicles — an urban planning concept called “complete streets” that's the subject of proposed U.S. House of Representatives legislation — the city spent $6.8 million converting Gay Street in the central business district from one-way access to two-way access. “It's not just a work environment down here, but a place to live,” Bowman says. “The city is being more deliberate in accommodating all users of all ages of all abilities all the time.”
Efforts to convince the association to bring its convention to Columbus were successful because of the support of elected officials as well as the local visitors and convention bureaus, Bowman says. “There always has to be one major champion,” he explains. “We've had one person who has been with this ever since there has been interest in applying as a host city.” In this case it was a consultant who didn't even work for the city but is a member of the state's APWA chapter who saw the city's potential as a host.
Fundraising was key once Columbus was selected. The state chapter's organizing committee raised $200,000 to include a welcome center in the Greater Columbus Convention Center, buy and personalize T-shirts for volunteers, and pay for refreshments for vendors and exhibitors.
The convention center is at the south end of a revitalized entertainment district called Short North. “It's a groovy, cool place to go,” says Bowman. “Walk it to see what we're doing in this highly urban corridor to promote urban living.” Along the main route, High Street, visitors are likely to walk under steel arches decorated with LED globe lights made to look like old-fashioned light bulbs.
Part of High Street spans Interstate 670, but pedestrians would never know it as they cross from Short North to the adjacent Arena District. Columbus partnered with a real estate firm to create an overpass that was widened to accommodate private retail development situated on 75-foot extensions from the street over the interstate.
“It was a wonderful partnership between the state, feds, local business community, residents group, and city leadership,” Bowman says. “We hope people see a big city that's retaining its young professionals.”