GDP and Columbus



Recently the US Bureau of Economic Analysis released GDP numbers for metro areas for 2011. Below is a chart for Ohio’s 3-Cs of GDP from 2001 to 2011.

All the metros saw GDP growth during this period, and all saw dips during the recession before growing again the past few years.

Total Growth (in Millions) 2001-2011
Cincinnati: $24,795
Columbus: $22,850
Cleveland: $21,518

GDP % Growth 2001-2011
Columbus: 32.1%
Cincinnati: 31.9%
Cleveland: 25.2%

So this shows that the Columbus metro has had the fastest growth the past 10 years in its GDP, albeit only a bit faster than Cincinnati.

The graph above shows the metro GDP per capita. Columbus was clearly ahead the first half of the last decade, but has fallen since. There are two reasons for this: Continuously growing population and the recession. A growing population and stagnant GDP during the recession meant that the GDP was diluted between more people. Neither of the other two faced the strong population growth during the recession. I expect the trends will reverse again over the next few years, however.



An Examination of Franklin County Voting History



**Added data for the 2016 election.

With the presidential election just a few months ago, I thought it might be interesting to look at how Franklin County has voted over time. I went back to the presidential election of 1976 as that is the earliest I could find individual county totals.

First, let’s look at the total number of votes that were for the Democratic candidates vs the total number of votes for the Republican candidate.

As the graph above shows, the number of Democratic votes has gradually been rising, and first surpassed Republican votes in the 1996 election. Meanwhile, Republican votes have more or less held steady, seeing no appreciable gains or declines over the course of the period of record.

What about votes as a %? For this, I was able to go back a bit further in the records.

This graph shows a very similar story, only a bit more stark, with Republicans clearly losing its share of the vote over the period with Democrats gaining.

Not only are the voting habits of the county changing, but Franklin County’s share of the statewide vote is also growing. In the graph below, Franklin County is compared to Cincinnati’s Hamilton County and Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County showing the % share of total statewide votes for each. Franklin County’s has been steadily rising over time, while both other counties have lost some share over the period.

And it is also becoming a bigger player in the statewide % of Democratic votes.

If these trends continue, Columbus’ Franklin County may end up passing Cuyahoga County not only as the most “Blue” county in the state, but the most influential county as well.



Why Doesn’t Columbus Have Rail? Part 2



Parsons Avenue streetcars ending service in 1948.

In Part #1 I talked a little about the history of passenger rail in Columbus and how no such service has existed within the city since 1977. In the 36 years since, why hasn’t rail come back, especially as the city continues to grow and many other cities of similar size are starting to build or already have heavy or light rail systems? The answer, it seems, is complicated.

Rail was being mentioned to make a comeback as early as the dawn of the 1980s. In 1980, COTA (Central Ohio Transit Authority) was able to convince area residents to pass a 0.5% sales tax to fund a list of ambitious projects, as well as promising free Downtown service. When the money from the sales tax came in, COTA decided to overreach and proposed a controversial plan to use the extra money. Called Transit80+, the plan had transit goals of articulated buses and a Downtown transit mall, as well as a proposal for a North Side light rail system (Why there, I don’t know). The development would be paid for with the $76 million surplus that COTA was running. Ironically, these projects largely died because of funding and support issues. Within a few years, COTA’s financial situation was changing. Federal budget cuts and the expiration of the sales tax in 1984 began to shrink the overall transit budget. Beyond the money, however, the public had reacted overwhelmingly negatively to the 1980 plan. Many felt that COTA needed to improve its already-existing bus service before spending money by jumping into other forms of transit. Consider this was only about 5 years after passenger rail left the city, and many people did not feel like it needed to be brought back.

In 1987, talk mounted for a monorail system in the Downtown area. The $40 million proposal included a large loop that wound through the Ohio Pen site (Arena District), the Scioto Peninsula, the county office complex on South High and then up to the City Center site (Columbus Commons). A feasibility study was never completed (there was no money for it), and COTA had steadily shrinking money on hand when levies failed in 1986 and 1988. A 0.25% sales tax did pass in 1989, but most of that money was used to rebuild the budget and maintain existing services.

For a few years after that, there was scant mention of rail beyond COTA’s continued long-term goal planning. A 1991 study by COTA only mentioned a light rail system to be put into place by 2020, and it seemed like the city would not see it for decades. However, only a year later, in 1992, rail came up again when the city hosted the international floral show, AmeriFlora ’92 at Franklin and Wolf parks. The show sparked much conversation about Columbus’ future as a city and what was needed to revitalize the urban core, something that City Center and other developments had, up to then, failed to really do. A light rail system was part of that discussion, and by 1993, there was a flurry of news related to this development.

A Columbus version of Grand Central Station was being proposed for Downtown that would connect taxis, cars, buses, light rail and high-speed heavy rail that would link Ohio’s large cities. MORPC (the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission) was deep into looking at potential locations, most of which were near the Ohio Pen site and the new convention center. Future mayor Michael Coleman was quoted in early 1993 saying, “We’re moving into the 21st century, and we need to prepare for that challenge.”

Beyond a city light rail system, suburbs and exurbs were also talking about a train. A proposal for a Columbus to Lancaster train was put forth. This was a proposal in addition to the Rt 33 bypass around Lancaster (which was eventually built) that would relieve growing congestion on the freeway. Also, a 3-C high speed train was being proposed and the idea was to have this system in place by 1995 with a connection at the proposed transit terminal near the convention center. The $3.2 billion high-speed 3-C train would’ve had an average speed of about 110mph with a max speed of 186mph, making the trip between Cincinnati and Cleveland in about 2 1/2 hours, even with stops.

Another proposal brought back the idea of a monorail system, though instead of a Downtown loop, the overhead system would run from just north of 270/Rt 23 to Downtown. The $110 million, 11-mile proposal would’ve been built in a corridor between Olentangy River Road and Cleveland Avenue and be capable of speeds of up to 75mph. The trains would’ve had 30 cars each and carry up to 5,000 people per hour.

Much of these developments (and others) were proposed to be completed by 2001.

The first snag came near the end of December 1993, when Nationwide refused to consider selling 5.3 acres it owned near the convention center that MORPC and COTA were interested in buying for the transit terminal. Nationwide insisted it hadn’t been consulted on the site bordered by High, Front, Nationwide and Spruce and had no interest in selling the property. The following month, the managing director of COTA and one of the biggest proponents of the hub and rail projects, announced he was leaving for Atlanta. The double-blow was bad, but not the end, yet. COTA and MORPC regrouped but still wanted the Nationwide site, which Nationwide still didn’t want to sell. The entire light-rail system’s proposed cost had risen to $522 million. In July 1994, COTA’s 13-member board approved the project moving forward… it only needed a 0.25% sales tax increase, with a vote scheduled for November 1995.

And then it all fell apart. Federal mass transit subsidies were cut by 12%, capital funding for bus replacement by 60% and state operating assistance by 4% Not only that, but future Ohio governor John Kasich, a Westerville US House representative, put forth a bill with massive mass transit cuts, especially to fixed systems like light rail. Without this money, the system would’ve had to have been entirely locally supported with another $65 million borrowed. The ambitious system suddenly proved too costly and COTA voted to pull the plan from its agenda. Columbus was not alone, as 25 other cities had to kill future or expansion rail plans. One has to wonder if Kasich had seen the momentum for rail in central Ohio and targeted these projects specifically with his national bill. This would not be the final time he would stand in the way of mass transit in Ohio. Ironically, in a poll taken the same week that COTA killed light rail plans, nearly 60% of the public surveyed in Columbus said they would’ve voted to support the November levy that would’ve built it. Instead, without the plans, the November 1995 levy failed. The location of the hub no longer mattered.

Three years later, in 1998, President Clinton signed a $217 billion package that would help fund 191 light rail projects nationally. COTA had no current rail plan and failed to submit any, so therefore was passed up on the funding. Despite this, COTA and MORPC once again prepared to sell the city on light rail, this time in order to pass a levy at the end of 1999. The hub idea was also revived, and the new location was directly across High Street from the convention center, in parking lots along N. Wall Street between Front and High.

Along with the hub, 8 commuter lines and a Downtown loop were proposed. The 8 lines were:
-A northbound from Downtown to the Crosswoods area
-A northwest line to Dublin along Rt 315
-A northeast line to Easton/Westerville parallel to Cleveland Avenue
-An eastbound line to Gahanna and Reynoldsburg
-A track along 33 northwest to southeast
-A west track along Broad Street
-A south track along Rt 3
The plan was once again ambitious, but COTA no longer had a good sales team. A public meeting for the plan in November 1998 only attracted 4 people. The word simply wasn’t getting out.

Leading up to the 1999 sales tax vote to pay for the new system, public reaction was generally positive, but there was still a lack of information available and the public seemed confused as to what would and wouldn’t happen and how it would be paid for. On voting day, the ballot seemed to lack any mention of rail whatsoever, as COTA had been barred from stating the purpose of the tax increase on the ballot. Not only that, but the ballot initiative was split into two parts. Issue 20 was a permanent 0.25% increase on sales tax while Issue 21 was for 10 years at the same rate. While the public was generally supportive of the rail plan, the split and the lack of wording on what the taxes were actually for confused many and they ended up going down to defeat. Columbus’ first (and last) vote on rail had gone down due to confusion and poor management by COTA.

Almost a decade later, Mayor Coleman once again revived the prospect of a rail system in 2007, though this time for streetcars Downtown and perhaps north and south along High Street. The idea was supported by COTA and MORPC, as well as through public polling, but many felt like streetcars really didn’t go far enough with the light rail concept, so many urban and light rail enthusiasts seemed to be underwhelmed by it all. Regardless of the lukewarm response, the proposal seemed to be moving forward. The following year, however, the economy began to crash into the Great Recession, and by 2010, with the election of John Kasich as governor, all mass transit projects at the time pretty much died. The revived 3-C high-speed train was single-handedly killed off by Kasich and it became very clear he would do everything he could to prevent mass transit projects from getting state funding. Cincinnati was able to get a streetcar passed, but almost exclusively from local support. The double whammy of the worst economic times since the Great Depression combined with state leadership that was wholly unfriendly to mass transit effectively shelved the streetcar proposal before it ever went very far.

Today, in early 2013, conditions have changed somewhat. The economy is gradually improving and COTA is running in the black, having the fastest growing ridership in the nation. More importantly, people seem to want to live in the city again, a development that no project like City Center could ever accomplish. Thousands of residential units are under construction or planned for the urban core of Columbus, Downtown is seeing dozens of new restaurants open, along with a new park, concert stage and the Scioto Mile. After 60 years of suburban-driven population growth, the city is making a dramatic and welcome return. But more than that, Columbus continues to grow, with the metro adding over 40,000 people in the past few years alone, and the city adding about half that. A recent article came out suggesting that Columbus now has the worst congestion of Ohio’s cities, and it is steadily getting worse.

These trends bode well for light rail and other forms of mass transit. The next time rail is brought up, it should (finally) move forward barring some major economic meltdown. Of course, given Columbus’ history of following Murphy’s Law when it comes to this subject, an alien invasion seems entirely possible.



Before and After: February 2013



To an urbanist, the following sets of photos are truly disturbing. I’ve heard it said many times over that Columbus is a new city filled with suburban design, and that it never really had a true urban, historic core. The sad thing is that that is dead wrong, and I say it’s sad because so much of it was lost in the name of progress. 99 years ago, Downtown was truly a beautiful, vibrant place, and the present-day shots only serve to make the transformation all that much more awful. You have to wonder what people were thinking in terms of design and the way that they systematically destroyed the environment that made the city what it was.

In any case, the photo set from 1914 was apparently taken by a photographer that walked the length of High Street starting from the intersection of Town Street all the way up to Goodale Avenue at the beginning of the Short North. They are some of the best historic photographs I’ve ever seen of Downtown Columbus. Let’s begin the tour.

Photo taken at High and Town looking north.


The photo above at Town and High shows Lazarus Department Store on the left. It is one of the few buildings that remains today, as shown below.

Town and High in 2016.

The next set is the before and after from Capital Square, just south of the Broad and High intersection. The tall building in the center of the photo is 8 E. Broad and one of the few still standing today.

Capital Square looking north.


Capital Square in 2016.

The next few photographs show the very heart of Downtown, the intersection of Broad and High. A few buildings remain, but most is gone.

Broad and High looking north.


Broad and High in 2018.

Next is High Street just north of Broad and looking north. Notice just how many buildings are gone.

High and Gay Street, looking north.


High and Gay in 2017.

Up next is the intersection of Long and High, just south of the Atlas building (on the right). The Atlas Building still exists and is in the process of renovation. There are also a few buildings across the street that survived. Few others did.

Long and High in 1914.


Long and High in 2018.

For the 2nd to last set, we have the intersection of Spring and High. The old Chittenden Hotel is the large building on the left with the Lyceum Theater behind it. Most of these buildings were torn down to make room for the Nationwide complex in the 1980s. There is literally not a single building from 1914 still standing in this area.

Spring Street and High in 1914.


Spring and High in 2018.

And finally, we have the intersection of Goodale Avenue and High Street. This before and after shows a drastic transformation. Many of the buildings in the photo, including the building with the beautiful domed rotunda, were demolished to clear the right of way for the construction of I-670. Others succumbed due to the Convention Center’s construction or the Greek Orthodox Church’s expansion in the 1980s. There is only one point of reference to know this is the same place. To me, this is the most tragic photo of all. Like so many cities, Columbus had incredible architecture in abundance, and the leaders in the middle part of the 20th century squandered it all away, leaving the current generation trying to rebuild a divided, empty shell of what once was. Much of it, however, can never be restored. Let it be a visible reminder that development has real consequences if not followed through wisely.

Goodale and Avenue in 1914.


Goodale and High in 2018.



Why Doesn’t Columbus Have Rail? Part 1



Rail in some form existed in Columbus from the 1850s through the mid-1970s. For generations, rail travel was the way to go. It was the connector of distances, the driver of local and state economies. On the local scale, it brought folks to and from their city’s downtown areas for shopping and employment, and the trolley, interuban and other rail systems were as prolific as the horse and buggy before them. So what happened? Where did Columbus’ passenger rail go?

Most people today are aware of the Union Station that existed on High Street where the Convention Center is now, but there were actually 2 more depots that proceeded it.
Columbus got it’s first real taste of rail travel in 1851, when the Columbus Union Depot opened, a year after the city’s first railroad, the Columbus & Xenia, entered the city. It was followed by the Cleveland, Columbus & Cincinnati Railroad in 1851. Both railroads wanted their depots to be as close to the downtown area as possible, as this was the center of the city’s population and commercial activity. At the time, the city was significantly smaller than it is now. Today, Chestnut and Naughten Streets are within the heart of Downtown, but in the early 1850s, there was almost no development north of these streets, so the two railroads collaborated and purchased a plot of land at the northeastern corner of the North High Street and Naughten intersection, about where the Hyatt Regency is today. This would be the location of their new terminal, the Columbus Union Depot.

The first Union Station that operated between 1851-1875.

This was the first depot in the city and resembled a barn, in some ways similar to the first North Market building that would go up nearby. It was built to handle 3 railroads but by the early 1870s was handling the traffic of 5, well exceeding capacity. Beyond the inadequate size, the depot’s trains dangerously and regularly blocked traffic on High Street, much to the anger of many residents. The push for a new depot began.

Plans were approved in 1871 for the new depot and it was completed and opened in February 1875, with the old depot torn down and many of the old tracks relocated/rerouted to the much larger depot, now located further east of the old depot location, just north of Naughten. Not only was it much larger, but much grander in design. No longer a giant, single story barn, it was instead a 3-story red brick structure and had many architectural features that the previous depot lacked. Tracks still crossed High, but a 160 ft tunnel underneath helped to relieve congestion. For years, this new setup solved many of the previous problems, but a steady increase in train traffic (there were over 120 daily trains by the early 1890s), as well as pedestrian and horse and buggy traffic getting too and from the depot began to cause major problems in the area once more. A new depot was once again needed.

Union Station 1875-1897.


The High Street tunnel that connected the 2nd depot, around 1888.

The third and most recognizable depot was completed in 1897: Union Station. It was, by far, the largest and most elaborately designed depot of the three, with 45 ft ceilings, a grand concourse and ornate plaster details. Much of the glamour was lost in a 1920′s remodeling, however, and falling numbers of daily trains gradually eroded maintenance levels. Union Station continued to serve passengers for nearly 50 more years, until the last passenger train passed through Union Stion on April 28, 1977, ending over 125 years of passenger rail in the city. Demolition of Union Station had begun almost 7 months earlier, in an underhanded tactic to make way for a proposed convention center. The depot, particularly the arcade section along High Street, had been put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, and preservationists had won an injuntion to stop demolition. However, a coalition led by Batelle rushed to demolish the building anyway, and by the time preservationists could act, most of it had already been lost. A single archway was all that remained, and today it sits on the northern corner of McPherson Commons park in the Arena District, a lonely testament to what was lost. The rest of the station was demolished by the fall of 1979. Ironically, the best evidence of how preservation attitudes have changed is just a bit further north with the I-670 retail cap. It is designed to resemble the Union Station arcade.

The 3rd and most iconic Union Station from 1897-1977.

Beyond heavy passenger rail, Columbus also had a streetcar system. The Columbus Street Railroad Company was formed in 1854, but the first streetcar did not come about until June 1863, when a horse-powered car arrived on High Street. By the 1890s, more than a dozen street rail companies were in the city and had almost 35 miles of tracks. Most of these were also horse-drawn until the early 1890s, when electrified lines proved far more efficient, making horse-drawn lines obsolete.

The Camp Chase streetcar.

Electric lines and passenger totals continued to grow over the next few decades and, by the mid 1910s, annual passenger tickets exceeded 65 million, equating to almost one trip per day for every man, woman and child living in Columbus at the time. By the 1920s, streetcar lines had spread to almost all of the urban core neighborhoods and inner ring suburbs, but passenger totals were already falling as the automobile increased in popularity. In the 1930s, an attempt was made to adapt to this changing transit environment and the fixed-track streetcars began to be replaced with trolley buses, with the last streetcar decommissioned in 1948. They too, however, only lasted until 1965, when they were replaced with the standard diesel bus.

In part 2, I’ll examine what happened and why rail has, to this date, not returned to the city.



Columbus Area Zip Codes and Their Economies



First, we have a map for the Columbus area that includes the % of of employees in a particular zip code from 2000-2010.

From this map, the urban areas of Columbus seem to have lost the most % of their employees the last decade, along with the far suburban and rural areas. The biggest growth was in the areas along and just outside of 270. This is an interesting map as it implies that the nearest suburban areas are attracting the most jobs, but that these suburbs are are both pulling from the inner core, but also from much further out.

The second map is for average employee income by zip code.

What this map seems to show is that, while jobs may be moving to the I-270 suburbs, pay for those jobs is decidedly mixed across the city. Downtown, for example, averaged some of the highest incomes in the city. Other strong areas include parts of Westerville, New Albany and Dublin. Most of the High Street corridor was fairly strong as well. The lowest incomes were almost entirely in rural and far suburban areas.

Finally, the % change of average income from 2000-2010.

This map is also a mixed bag. Most of the area saw wage growth, but where it occurred the strongest was definitely all over the map. Some suburbs had good and bad, and so did the urban core areas.

So what’s all this mean? Well, certainly it means that the total # of jobs as far as growth shifted to the 270 suburbs the last decade, but at the same time, those jobs that remained in the core areas still grew in income. So it appears that the city is becoming richer about on par with the suburbs, at least the last 10 years. The question becomes, what happens the next decade? If urban trends continue the way they have the past few years (which these maps don’t really take into account), it is entirely possible that some of the job growth will move back inward towards the urban core.



February Updates Planned



I have a lot of new additions planned for February. I will continue the ongoing updates on the new Census Tract Data page. This project is probably going to take a few months, as there are literally hundreds of census tracts and I plan to present data for each one. I wanted to do this specifically because it’s so difficult to find one site with this information. The US Census has it, but unfortunately it’s separated into invidual census years. Demographics for them are even harder to find. So I hope that those out there, like myself, who love this kind of stuff will find it useful and interesting.

Also, I plan to add a few more catergories to the Demographics Page.

Other than the tract and demographic page updates, I also plan to highlight at least a few individual projects from the past, present and future in regards to development. I will also update the ongoing yearly development list page, as there have been several new projects announced or that I’ve found that need to be added.

I will also be posting February’s weather records as well as a late report on the Blizzard of 1978.

Finally, I will be posting December’s unemployment and jobs report when it is finalized.

And as always, any major news stories about the city or metro will be posted as they show up.

So yeah, definitely a busy month planned with a ton to get done. I may be setting the bar a bit too high!

The Recovery of Downtown vs. Cleveland and Cincinnati Part 2



Yesterday I talked about how the 1950 core population had changed the last 50 years. Today I want to focus just on the Downtown, or the Central Business District. This is a much smaller area for all three cities so there are far fewer tracts involved.

First, let’s look at the total Downtown populations since 1950.

This graph, I think, will surprise most people. The first surprise is that downtown populations in 1950 were not nearly as high as most would have you believe. Cincinnati did have almost 22K people there, but even a city like Cleveland had less than 10K, and that was during the absolute peak of its city population. Another surprise is that Columbus was not always the lowest populated downtown and was more populated than Cleveland’s in 1950. Finally, the last surprise is that while all the downtowns are now growing, Columbus has regained 2nd place and Cleveland has seen the most growth so far.

What about tract trends for the downtowns? Well first, here are the population trends for each downtown.

For Cincinnati, Tracts #4 and #6 were combined into #265 in 2010.


So no city had a single Downtown tract that was not growing in 2010. This is good news.

Here is the total population change by Downtown.

What about if these current trends continue, what might the downtown populations look like in 2020 or 2030?



If you think Cleveland has a very rapid rise for its Best Case scenario, that is because, to get the best case, I used the last decade’s growth rates and just assumed they would continue and compound growth. One of Cleveland’s tracts had a growth rate over 80% while another grew 271%. Still, while it’s the best case, it’s also highly unlikely to maintain growth rates that high for that long, so a more likely case is somewhere closer to Most Likely.

Finally, I wanted to look at more of the downtown area than just the central business district. “Downtown” for many includes more areas than that and may be a “Greater Downtown Area”, the measurement between the full 1950 boundaries and just the CBD.

Here are the tracts I considered to be the Greater Downtown area for each city.

Cincinnati: 2, 9, 10, 11, 263, 264, 265, 268
Cleveland: 1033, 1036, 1042, 1071, 1077, 1078, 1082, 1083, 1084
Columbus: 21, 22, 29, 30, 36, 38, 40, 42, 52, 53, 57

And the graph for the population of these tracts since 1950 and a projection out to 2020.

Cincinnati reached it’s lowest population for the past 60 years for this area in 2010, but just barely. It should be growing again by 2020, but I didn’t project the growth to be that high because it was still coming out of its lowest point. Cleveland’s greater downtown had the bottomed out in 1990 and had the fasted growth the past decade. Columbus managed to maintain the highest population in its greater downtown, bottomed out in 2000 and has grown since. However, not nearly as fast as in Cleveland. I expect Columbus to have better growth this decade and remain on top, but with Cleveland’s area closing the gap.



The Recovery of Downtown vs. Cleveland and Cincinnati Part 1



Columbus’ downtown has seen many many changes, especially over the last decade. Developments like the Arena District, Columbus Commons, the Scioto Mile and more have brought new life to the area. Dozens of new restaurants have opened the past year or two alone, and a new grocery store will be opening for area residents in February. More developments coming up include the Scioto River restoration project that will create acres of new Downtown park space and pathways, and the redevelopment of the Scioto Peninsula behind COSI should connect the two sides of the river. All of this had led to rising population, now approaching 7,000. More than 1,000 residential units are currently under construction and more is on the way. So the question I was wondering is how has population been changing not only in Columbus’ downtown, but in comparison to Cleveland and Cincinnati. Both of those cities have also seen major projects in their downtown cores and are seeing an uptick in their downtown populations.

First, I examined the 1950 city limits for all three cities. This was the last census year before sprawl really took hold and changed the city dynamics and growth patterns. 1950 is also when most cities in Ohio reached their peak urban population, so I thought it would be interesting to see how those old boundaries had changed over the years. I went to the US census website and began to look up all the census tracts that existed in each city in 1950. Those would represent my base area that I would use to see the changes in the city core. All of the 3-Cs have grown beyond those 1950 boundaries, especially Columbus, but these areas were the hardest hit when the urban decline came the last 50-60 years while the suburbs grew. The results are both sobering and hopeful.

1950 Boundary Population Change 1950-2010
Cincinnati: -225,489
Cleveland: -536,351
Columbus: -141,319

1950 Boundary Population % Change 1950-2010
Cincinnati: -44.7%
Cleveland: -58.6%
Columbus: -37.6%

So what do these numbers show? Well, it’s clear that all 3 cities had urban core population declines the past 60 years just like just about every other city in the nation did. This was mostly a result of the suburban movement.
In Cleveland, the rate of loss had gradually been slowing down since the 1970s, but suddenly skyrocketed again in the 2000s. I’m not sure what exactly caused this. The double recessions made it more difficult for people to move, so if anything, the losses should’ve not accelerated. Cleveland lost over 90,000 people in its urban core from 2000-2010, the highest lost by % and total of any Ohio city.
In Cincinnati, population loss had peaked in the 1970s and the rate of loss fell substantially the following decade. However, the past 2 decades have actually seen a gradual acceleration of losses. The 2000-2010 period saw the second biggest total loss for the urban core.
For Columbus, it’s been the opposite picture. Like the other 2-Cs, losses peaked in the 1970s. Since then, the urban core losses have been in gradual decline. The 2000-2010 period had the smallest rate and total loss of any decade the past 60 years.

So interesting results, but these numbers don’t show any trends of what’s going on inside the 1950 boundaries, especially not the relatively small part that would be the downtowns. So let’s break the numbers down to the tract level.

# of Tracts in 1950*
Cincinnat: 107
Cleveland: 201
Columbus: 48

*The number of tracts changed from 1950 on as some were split or consolidated. This made it more complicated, but luckily the Census gives lists on how tracts changed over time, so one can figure out what tract became what and reasonably keep up with the same boundaries that existed in 1950.




So with this breakdown, we can see more of the trends within the 1950 boundaries. In Cincinnati, a long decline was followed by a recovery in 1990, only to have the next 20 years show an increasing decline. The 2010 census showed the fewest number of tracts growing on record. This is the worst performance of the 3-Cs. Cleveland also had a steep decline followed by a recovery, but it too declined more at the last census, but not nearly to the low point it reached in the 1970s and 1980s.

Meanwhile, Columbus also faced an initial steep decline and barely had any tracts growing during the 1970s. Since then, the trend has been up. The 16 growing tracts in 2010 were the highest since the 1940s. This is the best performance of the 3-Cs, and Columbus had the highest % of growing tracts in its core. Still, those 16 represent less than 1/3rd of the total tracts within the 1950 boundaries. So while there appears to be recovery ongoing in Columbus, especially compared to Cleveland and Cincinnati, it’s not where it needs to be.

So let’s look to the future. All these tracts are trending in certain directions themselves. While they may be losing now, they may be trending toward an eventual gain, and vice versa. If we follow the trends ongoing for the urban core tracts, where might the picture look like in say, 2020?

Tract Trends for Those Tracts Growing in Population in 2010
Trends are listed from what, in my opinion are the most positive to the most negative.

Growing in both 2000 and 2010, but Growth Accelerating Over Time and % of Total Tracts
Cincinnati: 0- 0%
Cleveland: 7- 4.6%
Columbus: 5- 11.3%

Shrinking in 2000 but Growing in 2010 and % of Total Tracts
Cincinnati: 10- 9.5%
Cleveland: 20- 13.1%
Columbus: 10- 18.9%

Growing in both 2000 and 2010, but Growth Slowing Over Time and % of Total Tracts
Cincinnati: 1- 1.0%
Cleveland: 1- 0.7%
Columbus: 1- 1.9%

Shrinking in both 2000 and 2010, but Loss Slowing Over Time and % of Total
Cincinnati: 28- 26.7%
Cleveland: 21- 13.7%
Columbus: 15- 28.3%

These tracts are those most likely to switch to positive growth come 2020. This is arguably one of the more positive trends and may deserve to be bumped a bit higher on the list.

Growing in 2000 but Shrinking in 2010 and % of Total
Cincinnati: 18- 17.1%
Cleveland: 42- 27.5%
Columbus: 5- 9.4%

Shrinking in both 2000 and 2010, but Loss Accelerating and % of Total
Cincinnati: 48- 45.7%
Cleveland: 93- 60.8%
Columbus: 17- 32.1%

These are the worst of the worst tracts, likely representing the most declined parts of the urban core. It’s pretty surprising to see that almost 2/3rds of Cleveland’s tracts are in this condition.

The tract trends paint a very interesting picture about each city’s urban core future. If we expanded these trends to the next census in 2020, this is what you might see.


All this information, however, deals with the entire urban core. What about just the Central Business Districts, or the downtown ares for each city? In Part #2, I will examine those numbers and trends for the very heart of these cities.



Columbus Retail History Part 2: Shopping Centers



Columbus and the shopping center have been together for a long time, and there is a strong argument that the city has had them longer than anywhere else in America. Even today, retail is a powerful player in the city’s economic and social picture.

As the automobile began to grow in use and importance, the concept of shopping changed. Previously, stores had been set up right against the sidewalk or street and customers would walk or find some other way to reach it. When the automobile came about, on-street parking was added. This was soon deemed insufficient for the steadily growing number of drivers, and developers and engineers began to think of new shopping experiences to adapt to this changing environment.

Don Casto Sr. in 1928.

One of the first major changes to come about was the strip center. Prolific in every suburb in America today, the strip center got its start in Columbus. The first one was developed in Grandview Heights and named the Grandview Avenue Shopping Center (also known as the Grandview Avenue Bank Block). Opening in 1928, the center included 30 shops and incorporated parking spaces for up to 400 cars, one of the first major retail developments to design for cars. It was also the first regional shopping center and the first to have more than one national grocer (it had 4). The opening was a big deal at the time. There was a parade that featured child actors from the “Our Gang” films (Alfalfa, Spanky, etc), a street fair and musical acts. It was, of course, an instant success, and copies began to sprout around the city, and eventually, the nation. The center was built by Don Casto Sr., and Casto Construction still is a Columbus entity, recently announcing a local HQ move to the Bicentennial Plaza building Downtown. The Bank Block also still exists, and although not functioning today exclusively as it was designed (it is now mixed-use), it is on the National Historic Register and continues to be a part of the Grandview Heights landscape.

The 1929 Bank Block at 1269 Grandview Avenue.


During the 1930s and 1940s, as suburban strip centers expanded and prospered, another idea began to emerge: The suburban shopping center. They were to be larger in scale than any strip center so far, with many stores, abundant parking and perhaps entertainment venues. Don Casto Sr., once again, took the lead. He proposed a new center at 3772 E. Broad Street, ironically, in order to relieve traffic congestion of shoppers in the Downtown area. Town & Country Shopping Center in Whitehall, was the result, opening in 1949. It was still strip-style, but much larger and with the parking lot set in front of the buildings. This became the dominant layout of all strip centers (and all retail development of any kind) for much of the next 60 years. Today, Town & Country has been renovated and reworked several times over, and shows little sign of its age.

Photo taken in 1976.


Town & Country in 2018.


Casto followed up Town & Country with a string of new strip shopping centers that included Northern Lights Shopping Center on the North Side (1954), Great Western in Hilltop (1955), Graceland Shopping Center at 5155 N. High Street (1955) and Great Southern Shopper’s City on S. High Street (1957). Most of these new centers also featured some type of local attraction. At Great Southern, there was a Pan American flag display, while at Great Western, there was the famous Walk O’ Wonders, where a large section of the parking lot featured scale models of the world’s major architectural and natural wonders, such as the Great Pyramids of Giza and Niagara Falls. Today, all of these centers still exist, though none of them are particularly popular. Most of them now have low-end retail or non-retail establishments, victims of the shopping mall.

Niagara Falls at the Walk O’ Wonders at Great Western C. 1960. The attraction lasted about a decade.

By the 1960s, the regional shopping mall was the next big idea in retail, and malls were sprouting up all over the country. Columbus was no exception to this trend. Columbus’ first major mall was Northland, which opened on August 13, 1964. Built for a modest $11 million, the enclosed mall featured 43 stores and 4,500 parking spaces. It was soon to be followed by Eastland Mall in February 1968 and Westland Mall in February 1969. The Westland Mall site was already a retail destination, having the first Lazarus branch store in the nation, opening in 1962. The mall was also built as an open-air shopping plaza, a very early version of the Easton Town Center concept, but the design proved unpopular, especially in bad weather months, and the mall was enclosed in 1982. The last retail destination was The Continent. Opening in 1973, The Continent was an open-air shopping center that featured European-style architecture and walkways that resembled the cobblestone alleys of Europe. As of today, only Eastland still functions as a full mall. Northland closed in 2002 and was demolished in 2004. The site is being redeveloped into a mixed-use site with offices, restaurants and small-scale retail. Westland still has a few stores, but the main mall section is now closed. The new Hollywood Casino opened in October 2012 across the street, and plans for the mall’s redevelopment are in the works. These plans are expected to be announced sometime this year, perhaps in the spring, although the owners have said it will likely not be a mall any longer and that the building itself may not remain. As far as The Continent goes, many of the stores began to move out in the 1980s and today the area is a collection of motels, low-end retail and not much else.

The Continent in 1976.


Westland Mall under construction in 1968 as an open-air concept.

Why did these malls fail? Pretty simple really… too much competition. This brings us to the the later arrivals on the retail scene. First up, was City Center. This mall was conceived as the savior of Downtown, to pull in shoppers from the suburbs and bring back traffic to the area. This $100 million, 100+ store enclosed mall was completed in 1989. For awhile, it did function as a destination mall, but also pulled business from Northland, Westland and Eastland malls, though it did not kill them.

August 18, 1989 — BLACK & WHITE — File photo of Columbus City Center grand opening celebration. City Center is the three-level shopping mall in downtown Columbus. (Ran in the paper on August 19, 1989.) The mall marked a turning point in Downtown redevelopment.

Three new suburban shopping malls opened between 1997 and 2001: Tuttle Crossing, Easton Town Center and Polaris Fashion Place. Each was a bigger blow to the traffic at the older malls, and one by one most of them perished. Eastland was the only survivor, and only because it was the furthest away from the new destinations.

Tuttle Crossing was completed in 1997 with 150 stores. A traditional enclosed mall, this 2-floor building has been largely successful and has remained busy through its lifespan so far. The future of the enclosed mall, however, is not as bright.

Tuttle Crossing’s main entrance.

Easton Town Center opened in 1999. The nearly $1 billion retail center brought back the open-air concept that had been absent in Columbus since the 1980s. However, instead of just lines of stores, the center was built as a small town, complete with streets, public plazas, landscaping and other amenities. Easton proved to be extremely popular, adding a second phase in 2001 and is currently planning a 3rd phase, perhaps for completion by 2014. As it stands now, there are already over 200 stores, a 30-screen movie theater and dozens of restaurants. Easton’s design was hailed as innovative and revolutionary to the mall concept, and has since been copied around the nation, much like Don Casto’s early strip centers.

Easton Town Center’s street scenes.

Polaris Fashion Place was the last major retail center to be built in Columbus, a $200 million 200-store enclosed mall in the southern part of Delaware County just west of I-71. It was the largest mall in Central Ohio and one of the largest in the state. It introduced the Columbus market to new stores like Lord & Taylor and Sak’s Fifth Avenue, and Polaris was considered to be the high end fashion destination for the area at the time. Development around the mall has since exploded, requiring the construction of two exits to be built off of 71 to handle the traffic levels.

Polaris Fashion Place interior.

So what is the future of these most recent places? City Center is, of course, gone. The mall was demolished in 2010 and the site converted to Columbus Commons Park. Tuttle Crossing and Polaris are still popular, but enclosed malls are increasingly falling out of favor and both are showing signs of this. No new ones have been built in the US since 2006, and there may not be another built anywhere for a long time to come. Retail has evolved from just mere shopping to an overall experience. In that sense, Easton looks to have the brightest future of the bunch, so long as it can keep updating itself in the way it has for the past 14 years. Polaris may be the most in trouble of the bunch. A recent proposal by the Ohio Department of Transportation is to rebuild the 36/37 interchange in Delaware County. Along with this rebuild, retail is being proposed for the site. This retail may include one, or perhaps two, outlet malls similar to the one in Jeffersonville, about an hour southwest of Columbus. If these get built, the cycle that killed off Westland, Northland and City Center may be repeated. Customers are likely to get pulled from Polaris to this new development unless Polaris can update itself in the way Easton has. It remains to be seen. Studies have suggested that Columbus cannot absorb much more retail, even as a growing city, so the construction of more large-scale retail is bound to have ripple effects across the metro area. In future posts, I want to highlight some of these retail places a bit more, especially City Center and its ultimate demise. Until then, happy shopping!