NEW ALBANY, IN (NEWS AND TRIBUNE) - It's hard to ignore what has been going on along the stretch of Charlestown Road known as the Colonial Manor Shopping Center area.
Businesses in recent years have closed, some for good while others have moved farther out toward the interstate along Charlestown Road. Now, only the shells of a Sonic and Hardee's sit idle, waiting on some new life.
And to add to the problem, Arby's closed recently as did a doctor's office and the Marathon at Charlestown Road and Klerner Lane.
The area needs a boost.
New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan said recently that a public input meeting is scheduled for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. March 20 at Fairmont Elementary School to hear ideas and concerns for that stretch of Charlestown Road. It's a meeting that has been a long time coming for some residents who call the area home and are concerned about its future.
"The blight is kind of spreading," Josh Turner, a resident in the area who is also a candidate for the District 5 New Albany City Council seat, said. "I think it's great that the administration is paying attention now to taxpayers in that area."
SHOPPING CENTER AREA IS KEY
Gahan said a recent change to the city's comprehensive plan may allow for a mixed-use development in the Colonial Manor Shopping Center, where several storefronts are empty. In a city where affordable housing is needed, he said this may be a way to address that problem.
“That is what the city needs at this point,” said Gahan, who grew up in the area and remembers when the shopping center was vibrant. “It’s part of the evolution of cities ... it’s typical of what happens in cities. The growth is in the perimeters.”
The shopping center only has a handful of businesses left, including an indoor flea market, storage facility, dental office and Asian restaurant. Sayaco Partnership owns 67 percent of the center and the six acres of property while Amini Revocable Trust owns the remainder — both out-of-town companies. The one-mile radius around Colonial Manor has a population of 9,753 — nearly one-third of the city's population, according to a report from CUBIT. The report was given to the redevelopment commission and New Albany City Council last month by Turner.
Matt Nash, District 5 City Council representative, thinks something will happen soon with the shopping center. He said mixed-use may be the way forward.
"I am not sure what I would like to see, but my feeling is it needs to be different than it has been in the past," Nash said. "I don't think that building is what we need now in New Albany."
Resident Kathy Copas, who has lived within that one-mile radius her entire life, also provided testimonials to the council and redevelopment commission from residents who have concerns with the blight in the area. Her hope is to “Renew, Rebuild and Restore” the Colonial Manor corridor.
"The Colonial Manor center has been in decline since the relocation of some major retail tenants more than a decade ago," Copas said. "The decline has greatly accelerated over the past couple of years. Through the years we have seen so many changes and they all haven't been for the good."
MIXING IT UP
Copas said blight in the area has led to more crime. And, she said, the blight and crime are spreading to neighboring streets.
"There are some bad elements in the area and it all centers around the blight of Colonial Manor Shopping Center," she said. "Colonial Manor has been like the weather. Everyone talks about it but no one can do anything about it. It used to be the heart and soul of what I call the North New Albany community."
Turner said he has been impressed with the growth of downtown New Albany, but added, "I feel like this area has been forgotten." And with the new Slate Run Elementary opening later this summer, it's imperative to give the area new life, he said.
Gahan said the city will be "pretty aggressive" in planning for the redevelopment in the area. The key is the future of Colonial Manor Shopping Center, or how to best use the land it occupies.
"We will encourage residential and mixed use. We know the city of New Albany needs all types of housing," Gahan said.
Gahan said the new school and sidewalks along Slate Run Road will be a "wonderful addition to the people who live along there."
"The timing is right with the school opening in a few months," Copas said.
Turner said when he talks about the possibility of the old shopping center being redeveloped to nearby residents, "their eyes light up."
“We want to take public input and get some ideas,” he said.
Copas said she wants residents to come to the March 20 meeting with ideas for Colonial Manor Shopping Center and not just use the forum as a venue to complain.
"I hope for some creative ideas and it [the meeting] can be a catalyst for redevelopment in the area," she said. "People take care of their homes and love this neighborhood. We want it to thrive and to be a safe neighborhood."
Nash said the area remains vibrant, adding that 8,000 cars pass the Colonial Manor Shopping Center each day. He said traffic flows freely along that stretch and there are no issues.
"Someone could make money there with something. It just seems like it is ripe for the pickins," he said. "I believe in the next year someone will do something with it."
That is what Copas and her neighbors are hoping will happen. She wants the meeting to produces ideas.
"We hope to cast a broad creative vision," she said. "I hope the city can take possession of the property so we can take a little time in figuring out the future. I think it needs to be citizen driven and taken out of the political process. It needs to be driven by the passion of the people who live and work there."