COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Millions of tax dollars are being spent to repave and upgrade High street in the Short North, but some fear the modern makeover may force shop owners out of business.
The City of Columbus aims to improve the look and feel of the area with the High Street Streetscape program after not seeing any upgrades since the 1980s. The first and fourth phase of the program are well under way on High street, but the next phases set to start in weeks are perhaps the most disruptive, and have shop owners preparing for the worst.
“I think it’s going to be a tough year,” Said Jason Williams, owner of Big Fun Vintage Toy store off High street. The store has been a staple of the street for the past four years.
“It’s all about memories, and what toys remind you of,” Williams said of the store’s inventory and popularity.
But what’s coming for the arts district is anything but fun and games. The High street Streetscape will roll past his store soon, turning his storefront into a construction zone. Williams believes the program combined with the numerous construction projects will spell doom for some stores who rely on foot traffic and parking to keep sales up.
“I suspect there will be 3,4,5 business who will probably close, and that stinks,” Williams said.
That may be a worst case scenario the city is trying to avoid. “We want to be really sensitive to the business community,” James Young with the city of Columbus Streetscape plan said.
The $30 million dollar streetscape plan will make the area more walkable, safer and more inclusive. The streetscape will widen sidewalks, install protected parking, eliminate a traffic lane and improve green space areas for the popular district.
“It’s really going to showcase High street, it’s the spine of Columbus,” Young said.
To try and prevent business revenue loss, construction will take a hiatus during the holiday season, and resume in January.
“Bear with us, we are doing everything we can to make it a very walkable, drive-able work zone,” Young added.
The plight of businesses in the area has not gone unnoticed by the Short North Business Alliance.
“There’s a lot of growth taking place in the Short North,” said Betsy Pandora with the non-profit.
To help with growing paints the alliance is teaming up with Huntington bank and the Ohio Small Business Development Center at Columbus State Community college to offer fee-free Small Business Administration loans of up to $350,000. The loans offer up to 10-year financing to help weather the construction.
“These partners are offering these programs at a deep discount,” Pandora added.
But some business fear taking on debt on top of not turning a profit.
“Winter is coming,” Williams warns of the upcoming construction. He looks forward to the benefits the program will bring,
“We need the road improvements,” he added, but hopes the cost of remodeling high street, won’t turn any locally owned business, into a thing of the past, much like his inventory.
“Hopefully they pay attention to timing and parking,” Williams said.
The Short North Businesses Alliance recommends shopping local this holiday season. The High St. Streetscape program is slated to finish in November 2019.