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Crackdown On Hotel Crime On S.R.161 Brings Better Business Climate

Businesses along State Route 161 in North Columbus have struggled over the past decade but things may be improving. A key factor was the closure of some crime-ridden hotels.  Area leaders welcome the clean-up but vow to press on for better businesses and safer access for shoppers.

Carfagna's Market on Route 161 keeps its loyal customers coming back with meat specials and Italian dishes.  Some like Mark Powell have been shopping here for decades despite some of the past crime problems at nearby hotels.

"When I first got to Columbus, I had a part time job as a pizza driver and I really did not like to go to those hotels, I'll tell you that.  You could just see what they were doing though, they just kept going downhill, downhill and now they're gone," said Powell.

The hotels were magnets for prostitution, drug sales, unsafe and unsanitary conditions.  Neighbors complained for years.  Two years ago, Columbus city officials filed a civil lawsuit against the hotels under the Ohio Nuisance Abatement Code and four shut down.  Some have reopened, under new management.  And one has changed its name.

Positive results came quick.  Since the lawsuit, police runs to the 161 area have dropped 40 percent.

President of the market, Dino Carfagna says he has seen more police officers and fewer people hanging out on the street.

“Some of the issues have been resolved, mainly trying to cut down on the crime.  And you know when there is a decline in the area, crime increases," said Carfagna.

Further east on 161 Dave Cooper who owns the Inkwell at the Beechcroft Centre says business is going pretty well.  Five years ago, I spoke to Cooper when he expressed concern about the constant number of businesses changing hands.  And some of that continues.  There are four vacancies out of 17 storefronts at the Beechcroft Centre.  Cooper says that’s more than usual.

And the Meijer store on Cleveland Avenue recently shut down.

“We were surprised by it.  We had a meeting there and the new manager had assured us that he had great plans for renovation and so forth and so on and then 3 days later the corporate announced they were closing and going to raze the building," said Cooper.

Cooper, a former chairman of the State Route 161 Task Force says when troubling businesses - like rowdy nightclubs- leave, members push to attract something positive.

“Most of the spaces that are empty we have been gradually filling them.   The Vegas club which was a problem area late at night got closed down, and now it’s a beautiful healthcare facility owned by Children’s Hospital," said Cooper.

Cooper says that many of the small “mom and pop” stores and restaurants along 161 are contributing to spruce up the area.  They’re raising about $5,000 for new landscaping  along the roadway.

Some shop owners volunteer to pick up litter on scheduled cleanup days.

Owner of Visions Hair Salon at Cleveland and 161, Bridgette Norman says she’s doing her part to support other businesses, but there aren’t enough of them near  her salon.

“It’s really, really been tough.  We really need to have something major on this street to actually bring traffic back, people back," said Norman.

As their grassroots improvement efforts continue, business owners are looking to the city and state for help.

William Logan is a member of the State Route 161 Task Force.  He’s lived in the area for 42 years.  He wants the city and state to make 161 friendlier to drivers and pedestrians.

“One is left to traverse a 50 mile an hour multi-lane high-speed corridor plus the side access roads, no sidewalks, very little signaling," said Logan.

“The bottom line is pedestrians get hit, vehicles crash into one another and occasionally someone dies," said Logan.

Logan says 161 business leaders got city officials to do a traffic study and those results are expected in August.

He and others hope the city and state will do for 161, what they did for Morse Road-invest millions of dollars in revitalization.