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Ask The Mayor: Columbus Lienhoop On Vaccination Hesitancy, Airpark Campus

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Unknown Speaker
All right, it's a new month may is here and so is Columbus Mayor Jim went up. Hello, and welcome. Well, thank

Unknown Speaker
you, Joe, good to see you again. Well,

Unknown Speaker
let's just begin like we always have COVID. Bartholomew County, is though in the blue metric level, and that's an upgrade from when we saw you last month. But then, you know, you're seeing state positivity rates going, going lower, and then now starting to go back up again.

Unknown Speaker
they've begun to tick up just a tad. I mean, we we follow the numbers provided to us by the Columbus Regional Health, and pay particular attention to their inpatient rate, the last number I saw, I think, was eight. It's been as low as zero here in the last couple of months. So, so yeah, it's picked up a bit. But but it's a number that the community can manage. And so, you know, we feel, you know, heartened by that. And we're paying particular attention to what we hear from the northern part of this state, the counties up along the Michigan border, have expressed, or I've indicated, you know, heightened number of infections. And, you know, there's been some reports of some, some what they call the variants that have shown here. But, but what we're, you know, again, what kind of focused on is the vaccination rate. And the latest numbers that I saw were, were somewhere in the 40 to 45% range in terms of residents here, we've been vaccinated, we still think we need to get a little bit higher, you know, we need to 60 65% range. But we know that the rate of vaccination has slowed. And so we were a little concerning, have begun to think about how we might approach the topic and try and encourage people to, to pursue the vaccination, because it's, you know, I understand it's an individual choice, it's truly is, but it's not all about you, or me, it's about us and the ability to arrest this vaccine, before it mutates into something that we can't deal with. So we we encourage everybody to go get vaccinated when you can.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, well, and that's something we've been reporting a lot about vaccine hesitancy. Everyone, I think 16 and up can be vaccinated now, right? We did some reporting. We did. Morgan County was planning for 1200, a mass vaccination clinic 97 people showed up and they they had to cancel, and you're starting to see that more and more, are you starting to get worried that it plateaued and herd immunity will not be achieved?

Unknown Speaker
Joe, I'm a mayor, I worry about all kinds of kids probably something that can can, you know, set you off your game? But But yeah, we're a little concerned that people will figure that since the virus hasn't hit them yet, that they're, they're somehow immune or they're saved, or it's passed, and by. And there's no justification in any of the scientific data that we've seen that indicates that that's, that's, that's the case. So that that's possible. And so we we continue to encourage people to get vaccinated. And we're, we're contemplating, you know, some ways to reach people a little bit more effectively than we have. But, but yeah, to continue to encourage everybody who's eligible to get vaccinated.

Unknown Speaker
Now, another interesting statistic, the highest age group, with the positive cases now is 20 to 29 years old, more than 18%. So is that another challenge in addressing this to what's now a younger crowd?

Unknown Speaker
Right? I think early on, those folks thought that they were a bulletproof. And I can remember being 2029 I mean, it's not easy, because at my age to remember that long ago, but But seriously, you think that you're healthy, and you're just not going to be susceptible to to this, and that if you do a contracted evil, you know, be laid low for a couple days and bounce right back in. And so it's not always the case. Plus, it gives you the chance, if you're not vaccinated, to have a low grade fever kind of thing. I mean, a low grade infection, and then pass it along to others. And so again, we encourage all people, you know, if you're eligible to get vaccinated.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah. And is that what? leaders city officials health department, I know you're a lot of different meetings, is that just the plan is getting the word out? I mean, I know we might be preaching to the choir on this show. But in terms of like you said, this is just not about me or you. It's about it's about everybody. What, what's the next step to get people vaccinated?

Unknown Speaker
Well, you know, again, we're gonna give some thought to that, but we've already been told there are a few factories here in the Columbus area, that Have a sort of a carrot out there and reward for a full vaccination on the factory floor. And that is that, hey, we will we all will not have to wear masks. I mean, if if we can all go get vaccinated, then we can all forego masking. And I haven't found anybody yet. You know, excited to put a mask on. But we've begun to see that here at City Hall. I mean, we've got several departments that are fully vaccinated. There are several groups of people that I meet with on a regular basis. And yeah, we all get together and we sit down around the table. And when we start, we're all masked up, and then you sort of do the math, you look around and you realize, well, you know, we don't have to worry, it's because in this room, everybody has been vaccinated. And so there's a personal, a certain level of personal freedom that comes with, you know, being fully vaccinated and being around people who are fully vaccinated. So, so once again, the benefits outweigh the cost. It's just trying to convince people that so hopefully, they'll begin to see that there are some advantages to being vaccinated, and I'll get it done. But that again, you know, you mentioned the younger folks, so those under 16. You know, we have concerns about, you know, what happens when the, when they get sick, I mean, these are kids who are normally going to school. Obviously, if they're at home, if they're sick, they're at home, and typically, you're going to have a parent with them. And so you've disrupted a couple schedules. Not just not just the kid, but the parent, and maybe the anybody who works with the parents. So So once again, now Please, get vaccinated encourage others to do so.

Unknown Speaker
I did here, city and county buildings are open to the public again, so anyone can come in. I'm sure there's still some mass requirements there, though.

Unknown Speaker
Right? Right. What we have been doing for the last several months of locking the doors to city building, so obviously, the employees can get in. But we've had them showing up for some time. And what we've encouraged the public to do is to approach city employees, you know, through remotely I mean, through the phone with a WebEx meeting or zoom meeting, that kind of thing, or, or at least at a distance, you know, if you if you meet outdoors, maintain your maintain your distance. And so the, the locking of the doors will cease. And we'll be able to invite the public back into almost all city buildings, I think fire stations will still be closed. And there'll be a couple others animal care, for example. But But yeah, come on in. But if you do come to a city facility, we will still expect you to wear maps, we will still expect you to maintain distancing six feet away from from others. And that will become an issue. I mean, it'll become obvious what we're trying to do, excuse me to come to a public meeting, be that a city council meeting or planning commission meeting or what have you, the public will be welcome to come in and attend in person, but we will expect them to wear a mask. And when the room gets full, as the room is full, all the seats are taken, then, you know, we can't accommodate anybody anymore. And so we'll still have options for people to pay attention. Virtually we've got a system we call granicus. That livestreams, our city council meetings and many of the other foreign commission meetings that we have, with some of those meetings are also available on WebEx, if you if you have this to set the meeting, and you can get an invitation to attend previously, that that'll still be available. But yeah, if you're here in person, we're gonna ask you to wear a mask and maintain your distance. Members of the boards or commissions, or the city council will still be allowed to attend virtually through the least the end of May. Now they can come in person if they want. That's their choice. But the state of Indiana is going to continue to allow for virtual attendance by decision makers by voters through the end of this month. Personally, I expect that to continue through the end of June. But we won't, we won't get firm guidance on that until probably the third or fourth weekend. Excuse me third or fourth week in May.

Unknown Speaker
Just wondering if you could catch us up on a project. I saw this in the Republic and I feel like I'm kind of coming in midway on this. It's air Park campus. And there's a collaboration I believe with with Cummins foundation on a landscape design project. Can you maybe tell us a little about especially those people outside of Columbus what that is

Unknown Speaker
sure. on the north side of our city is the Columbus Municipal Airport. This a years ago years gone by it was an Air Force Base. We use the name for color to describe it. And today if you land out there, the three letter initials are ba K, which stands for buckler Air Force Base. But today the name is Columbus Municipal Airport. But it's also the site for some of our higher education facilities. I up you see has a place out there Ivy Tech, Purdue Polytechnic. And then we've got a building that we call the Columbus Learning Center, which is shared by all three of those. And, you know, we've, I think we've talked in a prior session about Ivy Tech, the Columbus campus or the Columbus building for Ivy Tech is going to be replaced, they are in the process now of building a new building 30 to $33 million worth. And when that's done, the old building will be raised and will be destroyed, taken away. That will leave us obviously with a little bit of a hole in our campus out there. And, and we've realized too, that this is an opportunity for us to sort of reimagine what the campus out there might look like. This is also a gateway to the city of Columbus, I mean, those people who approach by air and land at the airport, you know, their first introduction to Columbus is what they see on their way out of the airport. Very similar kind of thing that you know, Indianapolis, I mean, when you land in Indianapolis, I, I find the airport there fairly impressive, particularly compared to some of the other places I built, our terminal will never be very impressive. But we can make the landscaping once you get off the terminal grounds, just that. And so we have put together what we call the air Park project, which is how we should landscape and project plan for continued development out there and the commons Foundation has graciously agreed to to help with the choice of a landscape architect and, you know, some of the planning related related to that. So we've got a little group together that consists of some tenants out there at the airport area, and some others within the community who are right now have interviewed for believe, perspective of designers. And shortly we'll come up with a recommendation as to which one should be higher. And this will tag along or attack on to the Ivy Tech project that will rebuild that new building or rebuild or excuse me build a new building out there and replace the existing one. So So yeah, it's kind of exciting. You know, we've really got a fair amount of activity underway here in Columbus, you might think, with the pandemic, that things have slowed to a stop. But, you know, we continue to move forward on the apartment project on the downtown area, the relocation of the county's court services building that continues, it's moving slowly, but it's continuing. And so, you know, we've we've got several exciting projects underway, not only in the downtown area, and at the airport, we've got, you know, a new company coming to town that will be in the dairy business. So all told several 100 million dollars worth of construction activity and, and additions to either the tax base or just to to the assets that we have here in town.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, I disappointed that fairoaks Mall development. Is that still on hold?

Unknown Speaker
Well, yeah, yes. And no. Yeah, continue to, to move forward. And candidly, the pace is going to pick up. We have received proposals from two architectural firms, BSA and Perkins as well. And we are prepared to go to the Fair Oaks board with a recommendation that we hire Perkins and will. So we'll we'll see what the board wants to do. But that will be the next step. And I don't recall the date that that will come forward, but sometime in May. And from that, we hope to get some drawings and, you know, begin to begin to do some stuff here later on this year.

Unknown Speaker
How is the city funding that building? I'm assuming that the revenues created by the few tenants left aren't covering how much it is to operate that building?

Unknown Speaker
Oh, not exactly. We, yeah, the rental revenues and fairoaks have declined significantly. And that was anticipated that that the tenants would relocate or relocate out outside of the mall. What wasn't anticipated was how long this was all going to take and and because of the pandemic, and I just haven't foreseen that. But going forward, we anticipate, you know, issuing a bond that will be financed or funded through the economic development income tax, and maybe a levy by the parks department. We just we just don't know yet. But part of it will depend upon what kind of drawings we get from, from the architect we hire. And we anticipate to that there's probably going to be three or four stages to this and so we'll have The stage or phase one, where, you know, we'll want to accommodate the indoor sports complex, large building to play soccer or softball in, we anticipate being able to move the parks department in phase one, we'll just have to see what else we can get done there. And, and then what makes sense for phases two and three. And I will share with you that we continue to meet with Columbus Regional Health. And their, their progress and their their project is moving forward slightly as well. I mean, here, they've got their plans a little bit further along. And they're, they're, they're getting ready to move as well. So, so there will be some action at finger oak. So, you know, this year, maybe a few months. Yep. Yeah, we'll be moving forward. But

Unknown Speaker
just in terms of funding it like today right now is where's that coming from? Is that coming from the parks department? You know,

Unknown Speaker
added funds, added funds. Okay. Yeah. Okay. That's the fun. That's the source that we had always anticipated using to fund operations. While we were figuring out, you know, what the, what the final design will look like, it's the same place that we'll look to, to fund the actual construction. So, so we're just using it a little bit longer, you know, then we, we had anticipated, we've got about a year or 18 months that has been sort of stuck here with the pandemic that has extended our timelines,

Unknown Speaker
and has added a form of a tax districting. For know that did say

Unknown Speaker
income tax, I cannot devote economic development income tax. And it's the city's share of what all residents are throwing and cannot pay. You may recall the rate I think, is 1.75%. On your income. And so the county receives that from the county residents and then the city of commerce gets a share of that. And that's what we're using to to fund the operations at Fair Oaks mall while we're waiting for the next year.

Unknown Speaker
Is it too soon to talk road construction season is that starting soon?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, we've got about 800,000 from community crossing grains. But most of that at you know, you can call it construction, it's really as the asphalt Overlay and then the growth will be the bulk of of that activity. We do have a larger project on the northwest, excuse me northeast part of the city, Taylor road, from 25th Street up to rocky for last year. We got I'll say 80%. done on the section from 31st. Up to rocky Ford. Right now the contract is working on 31st South 25th Street. The Northern part isn't quite finished yet. And then the construction schedule sometimes bedevil all of us. And and that is the case out there. But we're still expecting the entire Taylor road section to be finished. I'd say by the Fourth of July, but it may be stretched a little longer. It all depends on the weather. But But yeah, that's, that's the only really construction reconstruction project that comes to mind right now.

Unknown Speaker
Okay. Well,

Unknown Speaker
I know we're getting short on time. But I would like to give you the last word, any big announcements or things that you need to say?

Unknown Speaker
No, I would just want to repeat though, where we were earlier in the broadcast. And that is with respect to vaccinations. I just never want to miss an opportunity to encourage the community and anybody who might be listening to get vaccinated if you had the chance and to encourage others. Because, you know, the primary reason you vaccinate is to take care of yourself. But there's a big secondary reason and that is just to take care of the people around you. And so encourage everyone to do that.

Unknown Speaker
All right. Well, thank

Unknown Speaker
you very much, and hope to see you in June.

Unknown Speaker
Thank you. Take care. All right, you too. Bye bye. Thank

Unknown Speaker
you.
Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop

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

Bartholomew County is at the blue COVID metric level, vaccine hesitancy and variants could block herd immunity, 20-year-olds are contracting the most COVID cases, and a new gateway project is in the works.

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: Bartholomew County is at the blue metric level. But we're seeing state positivity rates fall, but now starting to go back up again.

Lienhoop: We follow the numbers provided to us by Columbus Regional Health, and pay particular attention to their inpatient rate. The last number I saw, I think, was eight. It's been as low as zero here in the last couple of months. So yeah, it's picked up a bit. But it's a number that the community can manage.

And we're paying particular attention to what we hear from the northern part of this state, the counties up along the Michigan border, have indicated heightened number of infections. And, there's been some reports of what they call the variants that have shown here. But, we're focused on the vaccination rate. And the latest numbers that I saw were somewhere in the 40 to 45% range in terms of residents here, have been vaccinated. We still think we need to get a little bit higher, we need 60 to 65% range.

READ MORE: Indiana Reports 824 Cases, 12 New COVID-19 Deaths Tuesday

COVID vaccination numbers Morgan County
State data shows a decrease in vaccinations. (Alex Paul, WFIU/WTIU News)

Hren: That's something we've been reporting about: vaccine hesitancy. We did some reporting... Morgan County was planning for a 1,200 mass vaccination clinic - 97 people signed up and they had to cancel. Are you starting to get worried that it has plateaued and herd immunity will not be achieved?

Lienhoop: Yeah, we're a little concerned that people will figure that since the virus hasn't hit them yet, they're somehow immune or they're saved, or it's passed. And there's no justification in any of the scientific data that we've seen that indicate that that's the case. And so we continue to encourage people to get vaccinated. And we're contemplating some ways to reach people a little bit more effectively than we have.

Hren: Another interesting statistic, the highest age group with the positive cases now is 20 to 29 years old, more than 18%. So is that another challenge in addressing this to what's now a younger crowd?

Lienhoop: Right? I think early on, those folks thought that they were bulletproof. You think that you're healthy, and you're just not going to be susceptible to this, and that if you do a contract COVID, you'll lay low for a couple days and bounce right back in. And so it's not always the case. Plus, it gives you the chance, if you're not vaccinated, to have a low grade infection, and then pass it along to others.

Downtown Columbus, Ind.
(Joe Hren, WFIU/WTIU News)

Hren: I did hear city and county buildings are open to the public again. I'm sure there's still some mask requirements though.

Lienhoop: We'll be able to invite the public back into almost all city buildings, I think fire stations will still be closed. And there'll be a couple others animal care, for example. But yeah, come on in. But if you do come to a city facility, we will still expect you to wear a mask, we will still expect you to maintain distancing six feet away from others. And when the room gets full, all the seats are taken, then we can't accommodate anybody anymore.

We've got a system that livestreams our city council meetings and many of the other commission meetings that we have, with some of those meetings are also available on WebEx. Members of the boards or commissions, or the city council will still be allowed to attend virtually through the least the end of May. Now they can come in person if they want. That's their choice. But the state of Indiana is going to continue to allow for virtual attendance by decision makers by voters through the end of this month.

Hren: Could you catch us up on a project. I saw this in the Republic and I feel like I'm coming in midway on this. It's called AirPark Campus. And there's a collaboration I believe with the Cummins foundation on a landscape design project. Can you tell us a little about it especially for those people outside of Columbus?

Lienhoop: Sure. On the north side of our city is the Columbus Municipal Airport. But it's also the site for some of our higher education facilities. IUPUC has a place out there, Ivy Tech, Purdue Polytechnic. And then we've got a building that we call the Columbus Learning Center, which is shared by all three of those.

This is also a gateway to the city of Columbus. Our terminal will never be very impressive. But we can make the landscaping once you get off the terminal grounds, just that. And so we have put together what we call the AirPark project, which is how we should landscape and project plan for continued development out there and the Cummins Foundation has graciously agreed to to help with the choice of a landscape architect and some of the planning related to that.

Empty parking lot at Fair Oaks Mall
Empty lots outside of Fair Oaks Mall. (Joe Hren, WFIU/WTIU News)

Hren: Fair Oaks Mall development is still on hold... how is it being funded since tenants left most likely are not covering the cost of the current facility?

Lienhoop: Oh, not exactly. Yeah, the rental revenues have declined significantly. And that was anticipated that the tenants would relocate. What wasn't anticipated was how long this was all going to take because of the pandemic. But going forward, we anticipate issuing a bond that will be financed or funded through the economic development income tax, and maybe a levy by the parks department. We just we just don't know yet.

EDIT funds are being used now. That's the source that we had always anticipated using to fund operations while we were figuring out what the final design will look like. Economic Development Income Tax. You may recall the rate I think, is 1.75% on your income. And so the county receives that from the county residents and then the city gets a share of that. And that's what we're using to to fund the operations at Fair Oaks Mall while we're waiting for the next year.

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