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Ask The Mayor: Columbus Lienhoop On Reaching Herd Immunity, Riverfront Project

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Unknown Speaker
All right, the first week of March, as always, Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop joins us for ask the mayor. Hello, and welcome that, Mr. Mayor, any snow left there?

Unknown Speaker
There's a few big piles. But you know, it's a good point to bring that up. We've This is my fifth year here. And this was the first year we really had a substantive snow. So I'm hoping we're hopeful that we got it out of the way. And we got another three years of clear sailing. But yeah, it you know, it tested our people a little bit. There were a few days where they were up and added at three or four in the morning. And and yeah, nobody, nobody I know goes to work at three in the morning. I'm sure that you know, there are people who work third shift, but but nonetheless, I appreciate them getting out there when it's really the safest when there are no other cars on the highways and they can get through the city in relatively short order.

Unknown Speaker
I know there's some flood warnings in effect of melting snow heavy rains this past weekend. Any areas they're experiencing flooding.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, we had Melrose Park closed for a day, I think maybe maybe two days. But nothing in the city. That's really a problem.

Unknown Speaker
So March kind of brings along spring, warmer temperatures, maybe kind of start to feel alive again. But then that weird feeling because a year ago, I guess we could say now we're at the one year anniversary of the Coronavirus. So I just want to see, you know your thoughts about that. And maybe kind of just take a look at a year back and what was going through your mind when all this started happening?

Unknown Speaker
Well, a year ago, I do remember thinking that this was going to be a big deal. And this was going to be with us for a while I had not anticipated 12 months, or what is likely to be another four or five, yet to go. But I knew it would be a big deal. We we have, you know, people who work here in Columbus who have business relationships and move on China. And so we got some information pretty early on that was very credible, that indicated that this was a real deal. I mean, people were getting sick, and people were dying, you know from this. And so we needed to be aware and cautious. And so our first reaction was to send some personal protective equipment to the Wu Han friends that we have. Because this came on to them pretty quickly. And then it wasn't too much after that, that we were asking for them, asking them for help in reverse. So they sent boxes upon boxes of masks and hand cleaner and other PP type items. And so, so yeah, it's a it's been a year our first COVID taskforce meeting here locally was the end of February. I don't think it was the 28th. But it might have been so So again, we were able to get on this a little early in large part because of the credible communication that we have from Ron. And I think that it helped in terms of alerting our community a little sooner. We have throughout this pandemic been able to post a little better numbers than elsewhere in the state of Indiana. And again, I think a lot of it came from early warning and, and early action. You know, again, if I think back on that first meeting, we were able with about 48 hours notice to gather here at City Hall we were meeting in person at that time, but we are gathered here, leaders from Bartholomew consolidated schools, leaders from the industry, we had folks from the county emergency management, couple clergy, you know, just folks from all walks of life come together to hear what we had to say. And to sort of take to heart the fact that this was a serious issue that we were going to have to deal with. So I can tell you in the in the time that we've been here, I mean, been dealing with this. The community's reaction has really been pretty good. I mean, you know, we've we've had some, you know, some frayed nerves from time to time, you know, as people have reacted to some of the various stages of shutting down the economy or shutting down their lives but folks seem to get it I think everybody's pretty fatigued at this point. But I'm realizing that we've got a little ways to go but I got my second vaccination shot Saturday and yeah, I age has its privileges Joe, you'll learn this someday. But I got mine Saturday, my wife got hers Monday yesterday. And and so we feel pretty good. I mean, she had a little ice pack on her arm you know last night I I didn't really have any, any kind of reaction to it. So I feel comfortable in thinking that, you know the vaccine is going to work work for all All this work pretty well, it's just going to take some time, you know, to get through to the number of people that we need to get vaccinated in order to have what they call herd immunity. depending upon what I've read or what you read 70 to 85% people, a percentage of the people need to be vaccinated. And in Bartholomew County, that gets us somewhere to around 70,000 people. And the last time I checked, we had gotten to 7400, in Bartholomew county with two with two shots. And so we got a ways to go. But again, I've been really pleased with the cooperation that we've received from the school system and the industry here in town. I mean, they've taken it to heart, the clergy have taken it all to heart and instituted procedures designed to help keep people safe. And I think because of that, like I say, we've been able to post better numbers than elsewhere in the state all throughout the pandemic.

Unknown Speaker
We just found out this week, age 55, and up now eligible to receive the vaccine. I just saw statistic two case decline in nursing homes of 82%. Since the vaccine has come out, so this past year, there has been a lot of not knowing what's next. And now we're starting to get that feeling that we know what's next.

Unknown Speaker
Right, right. Like I say we've we've, I think there's light at the end of the tunnel tunnel still pretty long. A few more months to go. But, but I think we sort of see how this is going to wind up and we can put a little bit of a I hate to put a date on it. But sometime mid summer, you know, maybe maybe a little later. But But yeah, we'll get there.

Unknown Speaker
Where are the vaccination sites there in Columbus and then are there plans to expand when more backscene comes?

Unknown Speaker
I'm not aware of any plans to expand on what we've got the number the places that come off top my head, our Columbus Regional Health at 17th. And Keller, the end of the Bartholomew console or excuse me, the Bartholomew County Health Department, which is out in Fox point Plaza, Sam's Club, Walmart, and CVS and maybe Walgreens, I'm just not, not real sure about that. So there are several sites. Last time I checked to the website, they identified six in Bartholomew County. So you should be able to find place, you know, and and i will tell you that when Pam and I went online to to make reservation for our shot it, it took us each about a half hour, hers was a little bit longer. And she did get kicked off one time, you know, and had to re enter. But by and large, it worked pretty well. We went on line on a Monday and got our first shot on a Thursday. So So yeah, it's the process works. It can be, you know, take a little time. You know, you have to plan on sitting in front of a computer for a while take take some patients with you when you go, but But yeah, it works. With

Unknown Speaker
more and more people getting the the two doses. What have you been hearing anything? I just hit my microphone. Let me just read that again. In your briefings now that we've heard more people are getting both shots and becoming fully vaccinated. Have you heard anything about what people can do in terms of meeting with others, you know, grandchildren? families?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, I think that you're able to, to resume that kind of in person contact, I think it's still wise to wear a mask. If you're with people who are not, you're not your household. So that may put a little damper on some of the family meetings, but the people who are protecting are your family, you know, so you shouldn't feel too reserved about that. The indications that I've read, you know, the information I've read indicates that, you know, the vaccine is effective and reducing transmission. But, you know, there's there's still a lot that we all have to learn. I mean, we're you normally these things take years to sort out. We've been at this for a year, right? And the vaccines, maybe even a little bit less. So I would encourage anybody to to wear a mask when they're outside their their household unit.

Unknown Speaker
You know, you mentioned mid summer, in terms of maybe getting some what back to normal. I saw in the Republic today that some officials they're thinking, perhaps more traditional four h fair may happen. Are you starting to get those types of things coming up and in the future? Yeah,

Unknown Speaker
I can tell you our calendar is beginning my calendar is beginning to fill back up and in terms of evening meetings or things to do on the weekend. And I'm still a little cautious personally, in all that engaging in some of that stuff. But But yeah, I think that it, it makes sense to continue to study excuse me to start to plan, you know, for events that may be mid summer or I got something the other day is scheduled for October. You know, my my expectation is that by the time we get there we should be we should be able to hold that event. But you know Don't tell you know. And so we, while we think we, as I said earlier, we think we understand how this is going to work its way out. And the timing, there's still still needs to be a certain percentage set aside for the unknowns. And so we'll just have to wait to see how that unfolds.

Unknown Speaker
few other things on my list to talk about, you know, with all the conference center talk and everything else I kind of lost about asking about the Crump theater was once part of that mix, but now isn't, but something we've seen in many communities with an old downtown theater that's in disrepair and efforts for Historic Preservation give any updates on the Crump theater.

Unknown Speaker
Now, I don't know, the the event that I just spoke about was a fundraiser for the crop. It's been rescheduled now till till October. And, you know, there's a group that's that's trying to put a plan together, that will preserve the Crump and they're trying to figure out a way to raise the money to fund the plan. But it and they're sort of working on both at the same time. And so, you know, hopefully they can figure out a way for those two lines to meet at some point. But But no, there's the Crump isn't part of our hotel Conference Center. Downtown plan, right.

Unknown Speaker
And one other project caught my eye, the riverfront project, an article in the Republic indicates some official starting to maybe doubt the project as cost arrived, I believe, we talked about $6 million. That was a little while ago, the paper now saying about 8 million. But I know you've also talked about a lot of regulatory items, that's kind of I guess, opens Pandora's box, because you're dealing with a

Unknown Speaker
river, right? Well, you're dealing with a river, plus you're dealing with multiple agencies. And so it's, it's, it's a real Rubik's Cube, I mean, in terms of trying to put all that together make sense out of it. You know, one of the things we've noticed with respect to COVID is a certain amount of fatigue, I mean, we just don't get tired of having to live our lives differently. And and so, you know, there's, there's plenty of fatigue to go around. And, and with respect to the riverfront project, yeah, we've been dealing with the Department of Natural Resources for four years. And you would think that at this point, we'd be a little further along than we are, and we're not, we've got a permit from them, that allows us now to go talk to the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. And so, yeah, there's gonna be a little bit more time investment in trying to secure approvals from those agencies, we would think that once we have satisfied the DNR that the other two would have a similar kind of series of screens that you would have to pass through, and that we would be able to get their approval as well. But you don't know until you know, this takes time. And, and that's, that's what we're working on. So while I understand that people rightly, are getting a little bit fatigued at the length of time that this is taking, it's, it's going to be a really neat project, I just cannot continue, I can't under emphasize how important I think this will be to the future of Columbus and our ability to make ourselves and attracting and attracting clients. And I don't want to wander too far out here. But one of the things we've learned from the pandemic is that people don't need to live where they work. Now, some people will I mean, you know, if you're on an assembly line, or if you're in a plant, or you're going to manage the plant, yeah, you're gonna have to be close to the physical location. But we've got employers now in Columbus that are hiring, with no expectation of relocation. So if those people want to move to Columbus, great, and if they don't, well, you know that that's okay, too, as far as their employer is concerned. And so it's incumbent upon Columbus, as well as all the other communities in Indiana, to make ourselves as attractive as we can, so that people will come here. Because, you know, at the end of the day, people are going to vote with their feet. And if we can't give them a reason to come here, then they won't And so yeah, I feel like projects like the riverfront and Fair Oaks mall, are critical to Columbus's future and to be in terms of being able to be, as I say, an attractive and attracting place.

Unknown Speaker
And it's also a mitigation project to right. It's just not recreation. So at some point, your work needs to get done, right.

Unknown Speaker
Excuse me, the Yeah, the recreation part. It comes from the path that the people trail that we want to snake in through between the between the pump house and the river. There's also in water recreation case, and a lot of people focus on that and think that that's really the only thing that we're, we're about, but But no, we've got some erosion on both sides of the river through there, that threatened gun cover and an old landfill. And that may mess with our sewer system. So, so yeah, we you know, we really need to to address those, and the dam that's in there today is not only dangerous, but it's fallen apart. I mean it, we've tried to get down there a couple of times when the water was really low, and take some pictures so that people can see the extent to which that dam has deteriorated. It hit the dam itself was originally, a rebel dam, just rocks out in the middle of the river is built back in the 1920s. And then somewhere along the line, somebody came along and put a concrete cap on top of the rubble. And the cap has broken in several places, and has begun to slide down. So our concern, not only will it continue to deteriorate and break at some point, when we, you know, can't control what was your reaction to me. But we're also concerned about people, folks, and rightly or wrongly get out there and swim or they walk on the dam, or they block below the dam. And we think that's kind of dangerous. So, so yeah, we'd like to remove the dam while we've got a little bit of ability to control the manner in which we do that. So it's not just your right. I mean, your point is, it's not just about recreation, there's a whole lot more going on with that project than than recreation and we're trying to kill Thuram, excuse me we're trying to solve is the right word here, we're trying to solve several problems. That's why again, I sometimes refer to these things as Rubik's Cube. I mean, we've got several sides to solve, you know, make them all same color, trying to solve all at the same time. And it's, it's challenging, but, but it'll be worth it. I am really pleased with the project that we designed.

Unknown Speaker
I see exhibit, Columbus announced its 2021 design presentations, do you have any inkling of what that's gonna look like this year?

Unknown Speaker
I look at those drawings. And I'm an accountant. Okay. And I'm looking forward to them, but I sort of have to see it and and feel it, touch it, you know, to be to be as impressed as I should be. But once again, you know, the the folks who run exhibit combs and come up with a really interesting challenge for a really interesting project presentation. And so I'm excited about what's coming. I think it'll be really, really neat. A lot of fun.

Unknown Speaker
We just have a couple minutes left. Do you have any announcements, city council news or ordinances that we should know about?

Unknown Speaker
No, right now, it's fairly, fairly slow, you know, on our agenda, we've got a council meeting this evening, you know, March 2 in the evening, and we're going to be taking up on second reading and additional appropriation ordinance, you know, we'd oftentimes get grants are funds from state government or from the federal government, and they come in to the city for use for a particular purpose. But we can't spend them for that particular purpose until city council approves. And we call that approval process and appropriation. And so there's a few places in the budget where we want to go ahead and appropriate, some of this additional money that we've received, there's an additional appropriation we want to make out of the Edit funds. And, and there a couple others in there that are sort of perfunctory. But as I say, that was passed the last council meeting on its first reading, and so we'll be read a second time tonight. And then there'll be a small, almost call it a scriveners error correction to our fire control or fire prevention regulations. And that'll be to conform to the Indiana State code relative to fireworks. And I, again, I don't have the details right in front of me, but we get sometimes turned around as to whether something happens at midnight or 1am. Or, you know, December 1, excuse me, January 1, or December 31. And so, what we try to do here is conform our local regulations with the state regulations. And that's the purpose behind the the ordinance will be introduced tonight. So really, I you know, I don't really see a whole lot to there's no, I don't really see any contention, you know, to be uncovered here this evening. So, I'm kind of looking forward to a quick meeting. All right. Well,

Unknown Speaker
thank you very much for your time, and I guess, hope to see you in April

Unknown Speaker
will be here. Thank you. Okay.
Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop

Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop on Tuesday's Zoom interview (Zoom)

Why Columbus had a head start on the coronavirus response, when Columbus could reach herd immunity, scheduling summer events, Riverfront project costs are going up, and Exhibit Columbus returns.

On this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop addresses these issues and more. Listen to the full conversation with Indiana Newsdesk anchor Joe Hren by clicking on the play button above, or read some of the questions and answers below. A portion of this segment airs 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. Wednesday on WFIU.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Hren: I guess we could say we're at the one year anniversary of the coronavirus. I want to hear your thoughts, and a look back at the year and what was going through your mind when all this started?

Lienhoop: I do remember thinking that this was going to be a big deal. And this was going to be with us for a while, I had not anticipated 12 months, or what is likely to be another four or five, yet to go. We have people who work here in Columbus who have business relationships in China. And so we got some information pretty early on that was very credible, that indicated that this was a real deal. I mean, people were getting sick, and people were dying. And so our first reaction was to send some personal protective equipment to the Wuhan friends that we have. And then it wasn't too much after that, that we were asking for them for help in reverse.

We were able to get on this a little early in large part because of the credible communication that we have from Wuhan. And I think that it helped in terms of alerting our community a little sooner.

Depending upon what I've read or what you read, 70 to 85% of the people need to be vaccinated. And in Bartholomew County, that gets us somewhere to around 70,000 people. And the last time I checked, we had gotten to 7,400 in Bartholomew County with two shots. And so we got a ways to go.

Hren: Now that we've heard more people are getting both shots and becoming fully vaccinated. In your briefings, have you heard anything about what people can do in terms of meeting with others, grandchildren? families?

Lienhoop: I think that you're able to resume that kind of in person contact, I think it's still wise to wear a mask. So that may put a little damper on some of the family meetings, but the people you are protecting are your family, so you shouldn't feel too reserved about that. The indications that I've read says that the vaccine is effective and reducing transmission. But, you know, there's still a lot that we all have to learn. I mean, normally these things take years to sort out. We've been at this for a year, right? And the vaccines, maybe even a little bit less.

Hren: You mentioned mid-summer in terms of maybe getting some what back to normal. I saw in The Republic today that some officials are thinking for a perhaps more traditional 4-H Fair? Are you starting to get those types of things coming up?

Lienhoop: I can tell you my calendar is beginning to fill back up in terms of evening meetings or things to do on the weekend. And I'm still a little cautious personally, in all that engaging in some of that stuff. But yeah, I think that it makes sense to continue to start to plan for events that may be mid-summer or I got something the other day is scheduled for October. And so we'll just have to wait to see how that unfolds.

Columbus Riverfront proposed design
Columbus Riverfront Project proposed rendering (Courtesy: City of Columbus)

Hren: And one other project that caught my eye, the Riverfront Project. An article in The Republic indicates some officials are starting to doubt the project as cost increased. I believe we talked about $6 million a little while ago, the paper now saying about $8 million. But I know you've also talked about a lot of regulatory items, that kind of opens Pandora's box, because you're dealing with a river.

Lienhoop: Well, you're dealing with a river, plus you're dealing with multiple agencies. And so it's a real Rubik's Cube in terms of trying to put all that together make sense out of it. One of the things we've noticed with respect to COVID is a certain amount of fatigue. And with respect to the riverfront project, we've been dealing with the Department of Natural Resources for four years. And you would think that at this point, we'd be a little further along than we are, and we're not. We've got a permit from them, that allows us now to go talk to the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

So while I understand that people rightly are getting a little bit fatigued at the length of time that this is taking, it's going to be a really neat project. I just can't under emphasize how important I think this will be to the future of Columbus and our ability to make ourselves and attracting clients.

One of the things we've learned from the pandemic is that people don't need to live where they work. We've got employers now in Columbus that are hiring, with no expectation of relocation. And so it's incumbent upon Columbus, as well as all the other communities in Indiana, to make ourselves as attractive as we can.

Hren: And it's a mitigation project too, right? It's just not recreation. So at some point, the work needs to get done?

Lienhoop: Yeah, the recreation part comes from the path that we want to snake in The People Trail through between the pump house and the river. But, we've got some erosion on both sides of the river through there, that threatened to uncover an old landfill. And that may mess with our sewer system. And the dam that's in there today is not only dangerous, but it's fallen apart. The dam itself was originally a rubble dam, just rocks out in the middle of the river built back in the 1920s.

We've got several sides to solve, trying to solve all at the same time. And it's challenging but, it'll be worth it. I am really pleased with the project that we designed.

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