July 30, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria mayor says ODOT could OK state Route 57 changes in month

ELYRIA — The $22.4 million state Route 57-49th Street Bridge reconfiguration could be greenlighted by the Ohio Department of Transportation within a month, Mayor Holly Brinda said Wednesday.

Brinda said she’s optimistic about approval and stressed that safety, not reviving the Midway Mall, is the primary goal of the project. The white-knuckle drive down state Route 57 includes cringeworthy merge ramps with the Ohio Turnpike and Interstate 90.

That segment of the route had 284 crashes in 2009-11, including 112 injury accidents, according to ODOT.

If approved, improvements would include additional traffic lights, removal of the bridge, widening Route 57 from four to six lanes from I-90 to the Turnpike, widening of Midway Boulevard to four lanes and removial of ramps to Griswold Road and Midway Boulevard. The project would begin next summer and conclude by September 2016.

“The way it’s configured, there’s no easy fix for it,” Brinda said in a meeting with Chronicle-Telegram Editor Andy Young. “This project is the way that they’ve determined is the most cost-effective way to fix this problem.”

Brinda visited Young to promote spending the $2 million from the $3.4 million windfall Elyria received in January.

The money came from a payout from a 2001 insurance policy that Elyria officials had been unaware of.

Elyria has sought funding for the project since 2007, and Brinda, who took office last year, said City Council members previously committed to a $2 million local matching contribution.

Brinda said borrowing for the match would create a $300,000 hole in Elyria’s budget. Revenue has significantly shrunk in the last few years after declinig state business tax collections and estate tax cuts.

Brinda also challenged a Wednesday editorial written by Young that said Councilman Garry Gibbs, R-3rd Ward, was right to question whether the city should spend windfall money for the project.

Gibbs at Monday’s Council meeting asked whether the project would revive the 1.1-million-square-foot mall, which opened in 1966. The mall, which has about 100 tenants, has struggled because of competition from bigger area malls, online shopping and the sluggish economy. The mall is owned by Brixmor Properties Group, whose website says it’s the second largest owner of shopping centers in the nation.

Gibbs, Council minority leader, suggested mall businesses pay some of the $2 million and said the windfall should go for street resurfacing, technology upgrades for firefighters and police, and tree removal and planting.

Gibbs, also questioned how many mall jobs the project would create and said if a study were done, Brixmor should pay for it rather than taxpayers.

Gibbs said he would vote against borrowing or using windfall money for the project and said the 49th Street bridge doesn’t need to be removed. He said Brinda doesn’t have enough votes from Council to approve using windfall money for her proposed project.

Despite the high accident rate on Route 57 near the Turnpike and I-90, Gibbs said it wasn’t unsafe.

“It’s the state’s responsibility,” he said about paying for improvements.

Removing the configuration leading to the mall that baffles out-of-town drivers would likely increase business, but Brinda said safety and west side development are the primary project goals. She said it would be difficult for studies to estimate how many mall jobs the project would create or retain, but said she supports a study on how to improve mall business.

Brinda said Council members have rejected paying for a study. She said the mall’s closure would have a ripple effect on the area, causing surrounding businesses to close and reducing Elyria income tax revenue and Lorain County sales tax revenue.

“We need to do everything we can to make the mall become healthier, and this project does have the potential of helping with that, (but) it’s not going to solve all the mall’s problems,” Brinda said. “Elyria (and) the region could stand to lose millions in output, meaning the value of goods and services sold if the mall closed.”

Mark Bressler, Midway Mall general manager, joined Brinda on Wednesday at The C-T. Bressler said he didn’t know how many workers the mall employs and wouldn’t say how much the mall’s annual revenue was but said sales increased last year compared to 2011.

Bressler said the mall remains viable. Bressler noted that Dunham’s Sports has relocated from West River Road North to the mall and expanded from 20,000 square feet to 45,000 square feet. Dunham’s reopens in its new location Friday.

Bressler said the mall is the only place in the county with a J.C. Penney’s, Macy’s and Sears in one place, and closure would cause an “exodus” of businesses to locations that have those stores. Bressler said the project would help the mall attract more customers and new retailers.

“We’re in a great location, but we’re hard to get to,” he said.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.