June’s Missed Opportunity of the Month




Columbus, as recent estimates show, is clearly becoming a real player on the national stage in terms of its rapid growth and increasing name recognition. There’s a lot to be proud of for a city located in what many people think is just the Rust Belt. But as with every city, Columbus doesn’t get it all right all the time. A while back, I wrote how Columbus could sometimes be a city of missed opportunities when it came to development, and that remains true. For every great project in the Short North, there’s an equally terrible development going up somewhere else. In what I want to be a semi-regular series, I’m going to highlight some projects that simply miss the boat in terms of good urban development. Some are merely not reaching their potential, and then some, like today’s example, is an out of left field example that seems to be trying so hard, only to fail equally so.

That project is the redevelopment of the University City strip mall off of Olentangy River Road.

Aerial view.

As you can see from the aerial, the site is your typical strip mall. Built in 1961 when such developments were seen as community shopping destinations rather than the dying suburban sprawl they have become, University City is completely nondescript and looks no different than hundreds of others dotting the landscape. Anchored by a Kroger, the strip mall held other stereotypical establishments- a salon, bars, a Chinese restaurant, etc. A handful of out lots contain a McDonald’s, gas station and a bank.

Most of the site, of course, is taken up by enormous amounts of surface parking, most of which sits empty more often than not.

Olentangy River Road is not exactly an urban street. Most of it is lined with hotels, restaurants and offices, all set well back from the road and in a generally unfavorable configuration to encourage walkability. So when it was announced back in June of last year that the strip mall would be redeveloped, hope for something substantially different seemed possible. The initial renderings showed a 6-story mixed-use building on the site instead of the strip mall.

MUCH better, right? Of course, saying it’s much better is a low bar compared to the current situation, but a 6-story, mixed-use project is truly urban, and one of the first of its kind on Olentangy River Road. So why, one might ask, is this a missed opportunity?
To answer that, we have to look at the proposed layout of the entire site.

Comparing the proposed layout to the current one is a little confusing, because they look extremely similar. It seems that the 6-story project will only replace the current strip center, but most of the parking and all of the out lots will remain intact. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster of suburban and urban elements that just looks really weird. There is no interaction with any of the nearby roads, and not even a resident pathway from the main building to the multi-use path that was built a few years ago along Olentangy. It’s all still catering to cars.
In the most recent rendering of the main building, seen below, there appears to be only 1 patio space for what is clearly a very large project. The view for customers from there, of course, is still just the parking lot, with its noise, pollution and lack of any shade. In fact that’s basically the view out of every window in the building- parking lots.

I suppose that some surface lots and outbuildings could eventually be redeveloped at some point, but as it stands now, there’s a lot to be desired. The main building is decent, but the overall layout and connections are terrible and it makes the whole project just look like a much larger version of the strip mall that’s already there. Maybe that’s a harsh assessment, but I don’t think it’s an unfair one. Casto, the developer, basically invented the strip mall, so they’re clearly playing to their strengths here. They’ve done some really good projects at times, like the renovation of the Julian building on South Front Street in Downtown, and I applaud the effort to go more urban in this location, but I think so much could’ve been done better in this case. No doubt that this development will have no trouble finding tenants to rent the apartments, just due to the lack of housing anywhere in the core, but I question just what this development offers that better ones don’t.

In the end, it is a good example of how Columbus needs more true urban developers that are comfortable and willing to push the envelope on this style of development. Trying to have it both ways, where suburbia reigns in an urban location, gets us nowhere.

2013 Census Tract Estimates

The Census released updated tract estimates for 2013, and they showed some interesting things. There are 285 census tracts that make up Franklin County.

First, let’s take a look at the Franklin County trends 2000-2013.

In regards to the above map, it’s a mix of both the 2013 official estimates and some that I did. For example, the official estimates had the Downtown tracts 30 and 40 losing population, as well as most of the Short North. That’s rather absurd considering the level of residential construction in these areas, as well as population estimates the city has done in the last few years for Downtown. In fact, the 2013 official estimates have Downtown tract population BELOW 2010. That’s just not the reality. So I looked over the tracts and adjusted them according to their long-term growth/decline trends. Most of them I left alone, but some adjustments had to be made. However, I was very conservative with any changes, and several tracts that the official estimates showed gains, I actually had losses.

Here are all the tracts that grew by at least 300 people between 2010 and 2013 in Franklin County, as well as their locations.

Blacklick #7395: +1,609
Dublin #6230: +1,214
Columbus-West Side #7951: +1,002
Columbus-Northwest #6372: +966
Columbus Northeast #6931: +963
Hilliard #7921: +955
Columbus-East Side #9361: +952
Columbus-West Side #8350: +951
Columbus-Northwest: #6384: +949
Dublin #6220: +933
Columbus-West Side #8141: +921
Columbus-Easton #7551: +793
Columbus-Southeast #9373: +749
Hilliard #7933: +688
Minerva Park #7112: +675
Columbus-South Side #8340: +652
Hilliard #7954: +643
Columbus North Side #7044: +636
Columbus Northeast #7132: +615
Columbus Northwest #6396: +557
Dublin #6386: +549
Columbus North Side #6921: +540
Columbus Northwest #6393: +492
Columbus-West Side: +489
Gahanna #7492: +473
New Albany #7209: +472
Columbus-Hilltop #8321: +466
Columbus-Southeast #9374: +455
Grove City #9740: +441
Columbus Northeast #6945: +438
Hillard #7931: +432
Columbus-West Side #7812: +427
Columbus-South Side #9590: +411
Columbus-South Side #8710: +407
Hilliard #10602: +407
Columbus-South Side #8822: +403
Whitehall #9230: +398
Columbus-West Side #8163: +397
Columbus-East Side #9362: +389
Columbus-Downtown #30: +387
Hilliard #7953: +382
Columbus-West Side #6330: +371
Columbus-Northwest #6387: +361
Columbus-East Side #9322: +352
Columbus-South Side #8825: +349
Columbus-Southwest #8161: +346
West Side-Marble Cliff #43: +345
Columbus-Southwest #8370: +340
Grandview #85: +332
Columbus-Downtown #40: +321
Hilliard #7922: +320
Dublin #6371: +312
Grove City #9751: +304
Columbus-Campus Area #13: +303

As far as the core of the city, the 1950 boundaries, here are the results.

There are 78 tracts that make up the original 1950 city boundary. Using the official estimates, 38 of the 78 tracts grew between 2010-2013, yet had a total loss of 3,229. However, again, it had all the Downtown and adjacent tracts inexplicably losing population, yet the opposite is occurring in these areas. For Downtown, the combined loss was about 370, and for the Short North, it had the loss at more than 700.

Using my adjusted estimates, 35 tracts are growing, adding 1,166 people 2010-2013. Most of the gains were made in the Downtown and adjacent tracts, and some of the losses were simply not as steep. For example, the official estimates had tract #10, in the Campus area, losing nearly 1,300 people since 2010, which is a ridiculous loss, especially considering it grew by almost 8% 2000-2010. In fact, most of the largest losses from the official estimates were around Campus and the Short North. Nonsense.

OSU’s Major Housing Project

Ohio State University has been engaged in long-term housing improvements on its campus for a few years now, and is set to begin the next and largest phase to date.

The first phase along W. 11th Avenue, called the South Campus High Rise Renovation and Addition Project, is nearing completion. The $171 million project began in 2010 and focused on Stradley, Smith, Park, Steeb and Siebert Halls. The residential buildings, which were all constructed between 1957 and 1960, would see major changes.

-New 12-story additions would connect Park with Stradley and Steeb to Smith.
-10-story Siebert Hall would receive a major renovation.

Rendering of the additions between Park/Stradley and Steeb/Smith.

In addition to the building additions, air conditioning, new elevators, lobbies and other improvements were made. The air conditioning was provided by drilling 450 geothermal wells. The additions would bring an additional 360 student beds.

Also renovated and added to was the William H. Hall housing complex at W. 11th and Worthington Street. Opened in August 2012, the building added 530 new beds.

The South Campus High Rise Renovation and Addition Project will ultimately add about 900 new student beds, but this is a far cry from the project just beginning along Lane Avenue.

Announced around the same time as SCHRRAP, the North Campus Residential District Project began just this past week. This project focuses on the large cluster of dorms and other buildings at the southwest corner of N. High Street and W. Lane Avenue. Most were built in the 1960s and 1970s and look it.

North Campus area 2013

The image above shows how the area looks currently. As the key says, the buildings in red are scheduled to be demolished. The road that goes through the complex, Curl Drive, is also scheduled to be removed.

The image above shows the first phases of construction through Spring 2014. As you can see, there will be 3 main areas of construction during this period.

-A new dorm will be constructed at the southeast corner of W. Lane and Neil Avenues. This area is currently a surface parking lot.
-Scott Hall will be demolished and the site will be replaced with a much larger building.
-Raney Commons will be demolished, and site preparation will take place for new buildings, as well as removing Curl Drive and other infrastructure.
-Once site preparation is complete, 3 new dorm buildings will be constructed at the corner of N. High and W. Lane.

The last image above shows the final phase of construction, from Fall 2015 to Summer 2016. During this period, several changes take place.

-4 row homes along W. Lane will be demolished, as well as North Commons, Houck, Blackburn and Nosker Halls, the Royer Student Activities building and the Jones Pool.
-5 new buildings will be built in this area, as well as new addtions to Taylor, Jones and Drackett Halls.
-A central pedestrian corridor will be completed through the entire complex.
-High and Lane will be landscaped, and park spaces will be created throughout.

Final Project Renderings

In the end, 3,200 new beds will be created in the $370 million project. This will drastically change the look and feel of this area, and will continue to add density to the campus area, already Columbus’ most dense.