Work has begun on a long-awaited repaving project in the Leigh Mall parking area.
Columbus officials say Security National Properties, which owns Leigh Mall, will invest more than $1 million in a three-phase project that will take about a year to complete. Mill-work on the first phase, which will cost $225,000 and includes a large portion of the parking lot behind Hardee’s, began Thursday.
“This has been a long time coming,” said Councilman Bill Gavin of Ward 6, where Leigh Mall is located. “I met with the owners back in April and they assured me at that time there would be some paving going on. They said the timeframe for that would be in September or October, so it looks like they are following through on what they told me.”
The condition of Leigh Mall, and in particular its parking lot, has been a point of contention between city leaders and the property owners for years.
On Aug. 9 the city sent a letter to the owners that stated the condition of the parking lot had become a safety issue the city could no longer ignore, according to Columbus Public Information Officer Joe Dillon.
In that letter, the city pointed out 51 areas on the property that were code violations, most of them potholes, and asked the owners to begin the necessary repairs.
“We are very thankful for the work that is being done by the owner of Leigh Mall,” Mayor Robert Smith said in an email today. “The mall is a very valuable member of our retail community and has been for several years. The work that is being done will allow not only local residents but visitors to access the area easily.”
Acknowledging that conditions of the mall parking lot have long been a source of frustration, Smith noted that the city’s approach to the problem was limited.
“Citizens need to understand that Leigh Mall is a privately-owned location and that’s the reason that the city could not step in and do the (paving) work,” the mayor’s email continued. “It’s illegal for the city to do any such work on private property, and all of the code violations were on that private property.
The mall is home to stores like J.C. Penny, Hibbett Sports and Books-A-Million. In 2014, Hobby Lobby also located there.
“We’ve been working for a lot of years to revitalize the mall because it’s such an important economic and retail part of our city,” Gavin said. “Bringing in Hobby Lobby was a real step forward, but we knew that there was much more work that needed to be done. So the steps they are taking now is a huge deal. We’ve had some very positive conversations, not only about the parking lot, but the potential for new tenants. I think getting the parking lot in shape opens the door for that.”
Gavin said he understood the strategy behind doing to work in phases.
“Obviously, the mall has to stay open as they do this,” he said. “The stores in the mall need to stay open and there needs to be available parking for customers, so this looks like a reasonable approach to me.”
The Dispatch could not reach ownership or management with Leigh Mall by press time.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.