Weinland Park has long been a downtrodden, middle-class neighborhood in one of the best locations in the city, situated directly between the Short North/Italian Village and OSU’s Campus area. High crime, poverty and other issues have plagued the neighborhood for decades, but in recent years, as development has converged from the north and south into the neighborhood, that is steadily changing. The before and after photos below show just some of these changes.
Indianola and East 8th Avenue, looking northeast Before: 2011 After: 2017
East 8th Avenue, looking east Before: 2011 After: 2016
Summit Street, looking west Before: 2011 After: 2017
North 6th Street, looking south Before: 2009 After: 2015
North Grant Avenue, looking north Before: 2009 After: 2015
Courtland Avenue, looking south Before: 2007 After: 2017
July’s entry into the list of dumb ideas isn’t about something bad with the development itself, but rather the unfortunately common plague of NIMBYism that festers in so many urban neighborhoods, and how it can kill good urbanism because some people have delicate sensibilities that need stroking.
A while back, Kaufman Development proposed a 10-story, mixed-use project at 23 W. 2nd Avenue that spanned part of the block between Price and 2nd, most of which was already a vacant grass lot. The project proposed renovating the 91-year-old IBEW building and incorporating it into the overall project, which included a mix of apartments, retail and office space.
Last rendering in July 2018.
Victorian Village, the neighborhood of which the project fell under, was of course completely apoplectic about it. After the first neighborhood commission meeting, at which commission members and neighborhood busybodies expressed deep concerns about the design and size, Kaufman went back to the drawing board. Over time, Kaufman redesigned the project more than 20 times, the height changing from 10 to 9 to 14 and then back to 10 stories, with the number of apartments, uses, scale, etc. being changed over and over again to please the fickle nearby residents. These residents (and let’s not forget commission members, which admittedly, faced a 4-4 tie in the vote because the commission was lacking its 9th member, something the City hopes to rectify in the near future) complained about traffic and that the project would “block the sun”, among other roll-of-the-eyes nonsense. It was the kind of shenanigans that even Clintonville might suggest had gone too far.
Instead of continuing to deal with unreasonable people, spending more time and money for something they couldn’t make work, Kaufman decided to walk away from the project altogether. Though they still own the property and may eventually come back to the table with another proposal, it seems unlikely to be anywhere near the scale originally proposed. The NIMBYism aside, this speaks to the disconnect between the real estate conditions in Columbus and the pushback on building new development that would actually help resolve some of the existing problems. Columbus is currently in the midst of a housing crisis. Population estimates show that the city has become one of the nation’s fastest-growing. This growth, combined with a historically-low inventory and record sales, has put a huge strain on the housing market, including pushing prices to ever-higher levels. Simply put, residential construction hasn’t been keeping pace with the influx of population into the city, and this has been the case since at least the 2009 recession. Instead of intentionally limiting developers to go smaller in prime locations- such as in the very-high-demand Short North off of High Street- development commissions across the city should be welcoming more housing. Instead, projects are being downsized or rejected by local populations left and right. Let’s look at a few reasons why commission members and some residents opposed this particular project.
The argument that traffic would be a problem is silly and misguided for many reasons, but I’ll just review a few of them. First, the project plan provided parking in a garage for its residents and at least some for retail customers/visitors, and the extra cars driving around wouldn’t have been significant enough to make any noticeable difference in an already busy area. Second, Price Avenue was said to be too small and narrow to handle cars going in and out of the garage entrance per the project, but it’s clearly wide enough for 1-way traffic (its 1-way already) and 2 more lanes of curbside parking, so that reason seems equally bunk. And entrance/exit from the project would not have taken up many existing curb spots, and no configuration changes to the street would’ve been needed except for perhaps a very small end section of Price.
Price Avenue looking toward High, about where the Kaufman project would’ve gone on the left.
Third, traffic and parking shouldn’t be used as a hammer to squash development, but as the catalyst to demand better transit and pedestrian options. Whether those include buses, rail, bikes, better sidewalks, etc. can be debated, but transit is an important part of the picture in urban neighborhoods, whether people like it or not. Furthermore, this area is already highly served by bus and bike, as well as car-share and Uber. The idea that people even have to drive here, or even to the Short North in general, is simply not true. Given that the Short North is highly walkable, many of the residents that would’ve lived here would’ve been less likely to use their cars for all trips, anyway, thereby further reducing the impact on local roads.
It’s Too Big for the Neighborhood!!!
To this, I say, bullshit. Multiple projects just as big or larger have already been built or are under construction on both sides of High Street, including in Victorian Village, which this site falls under. To say that the Kaufman site is not appropriate is completely arbitrary, even if the site is not on High itself, but set back slightly. To the east is the High commercial corridor and to the west is an alleyway. 4 single-family homes exist to the east of the alleyway, and would’ve been the only ones really directly near the project. The complaint that there would be significant “sun blocking” is ridiculous. It wasn’t a 50-story tower, and the orientation of project meant that any sun loss would have been minimal at worst.
The Historic Character of the Neighborhood is Being Lost!!!
This one comes up with virtually every single development in this particular neighborhood. Victorian Village is indeed a beautiful neighborhood with some of the city’s best-preserved historic housing. But the Kaufman project would’ve had no impact on that, whatsoever. No demolition would’ve taken place, as this particular land lost all of its historic buildings before 1980. It’s just a vacant lot now. More importantly, the proposal would’ve renovated an actual historic building, the IBEW, helping to preserve it for the future. The histrionics on preserving the neighborhood rings hollow when nothing was actually under threat.
In any case, the project is probably dead. Whatever might be proposed in its place will likely do that much less to help address the housing crisis or to keep the neighborhood progressing. It’s a shame that some people can hold entire neighborhoods hostage with outdated thinking, and how a 40-year-long vacant lot- and counting- can be preferable to the fear of change.
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.
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.
The Big Darby Creek watershed is one of the best natural areas of Franklin County. Designated a national and state scenic river, Big Darby Creek is one of Ohio’s most pristine waterways, and is home to several endangered species. Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park has grown to become the crown jewel of the Metro Parks system, encompassing more than 7,000 acres of forests, waterways and prairie.
The river’s history, however, has not always been so tranquil.
All the way back in 1943, Ohio State University zoologist Milton Trautman discovered a tiny catfish in Big Darby, the Scioto Madtom. The fish only exists in the Big Darby, and was an early clue as to the biological diversity that can be found there, now known to be home to more than 100 species of fish and more than 40 species of mussels.
By 1950, a small park of 34 acres had formed, the beginning of what would become the Battelle Darby. Development pressures, however, were already threatening the system. I-70 cut through the middle of the system in the early 1960s, and the construction of I-270 allowed for the suburban explosion. Without significant intervention, the watershed would’ve been inevitably developed. Ironically, a plan to largely destroy the Big Darby ultimately helped saved it.
While most major rivers and streams in the state had been dammed or altered for flood control by the 1960s, Big Darby remained free-flowing. Two separate proposed projects would’ve changed that irrevocably. The first was a proposal by the Army Corps of Engineers to build what would’ve been called the Lower Darby Dam, in west-central Franklin County, near the heart of the current Battelle Darby park. The high dam proposal would’ve flooded at least 3,000 acres of land, and the Corps began to buy the land in preparation for the project. This was in the late 1960s, coinciding with the beginning of the development boom in western suburbs like Hilliard. Instead of prime real estate along the river being developed with single-family housing and strip malls, the dam plan had the opposite effect by making the land essentially unmarketable and off limits to developers. A coinciding proposal by the City of Columbus to build another dam, the Upper Darby Dam, had the same effect on areas at that proposed site in Brown Township further to the north. The 2-dam proposal had effectively removed the majority of Franklin County’s Big Darby Creek off the market.
As development pressure was removed, environmental groups rose up to stop the Lower Darby Dam project itself. This fight was waged until 1973, when the plan was finally abandoned by the Army Corps of Engineers. They still owned the land, however, and with uncertainty of the dam project resurfacing someday, development interests continued to stay away. Three years later, in 1976, Columbus Metro Parks received a $1 million grant from the Battelle Memorial Foundation, which was then matched with an additional $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior Land and Water Conservation Fund. Suddenly flush with cash, Metro Parks began a land-buying spree along the Big Darby, particularly targeting the land that the Corps had set aside for the reservoir, pushing the size of the park from roughly 400 acres in 1976 to about 3,000 acres by 1984.
That year, on June 22, 1984, 82 miles of the Big and Little Darby creeks were designated as state scenic rivers. The designation more or less ended any remaining plans for the Upper Darby Dam. It had been shelved since 1979 when the Department of Natural Resources and environmental groups managed to stop that dam project as well. Just 4 years after the scenic river designation, during the extremely dry, hot summer of 1988, the idea of the dam was revived. Former Columbus Service Director Walter “Hap” Cremean, whose name today is on some city facilities, considered the Big Darby key to Columbus’ future water needs. The city was searching for a source of water that could provide the city with an additional 30 million gallons of water a day by 2000, not a small task. Cremean himself had been the city’s service director at the time that Columbus was pushing for the dam project in the 1960s.
On July 12, 1988, Cremean was quoted saying, “In 1968, we instituted the acquisition of property along Big Darby. We were spending $1 million a year for what we considered the next major reservoir site for Franklin County,” Cremean said. “In my opinion, it is impossible to talk about full development of the West Side without (Big Darby).”
The search for new sources of water for Columbus continued into the early 1990s, but by 1990, the Big Darby reservoir option was losing favor due to its long history of opposition. The city had drafted a study called Water Beyond 2000, which was finished on September 26, 1991. At least 20 options for expanding water sources had been on the table, including the Big Darby reservoir, but the study had narrowed down the choices to just 7. Among the choices eliminated from consideration was the Big Darby plan, an option that the study concluded was going to be one of the most expensive, at $280 million. For all intents and purposes, the idea of a Big Darby reservoir was finally dead… or sort of. While a reservoir directly on the Darby was off the table, a reservoir in the watershed using the Darby’s water was still very much on.
Through the rest of 1991 and into the first half of 1992, residents waited for the list of 7 options to be narrowed down further. On July 6, 1992, that final list came out. The Big Darby option was eliminated completely. No reservoir would be built anywhere near it. In the end, the Columbus Upground Reservoir was built just to the southeast of Richwood, along with new wells drilled along the Pickaway-Franklin County line. Combined, they provided more than enough water to serve the city long into the future.
Columbus Upground Reservoir
The following year, in 1993, the Big and Little Darby were given National Scenic River status, the highest designation a US river can receive. Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park has continued to expand beyond 7,000 acres and will continue to grow even larger in the future, with the ultimate goal of having the entire 75 miles of Big Darby as part of a continuous park. Development pressures remain in the area, and in recent years, there have been the occasional fish and mussel die-offs, suggesting that the Big Darby is still under threat. What we do with this beautiful natural resource is up to us. Though dams are no longer in the picture, other dangers lurk.
In the early 1990s during the height of the water search, the Big Darby was not the only waterway under threat. A similar dam project was under proposal for the Scioto River in Delaware County. My family was moving at the time and we looked at a house near the small town of Prospect, not far from where the proposed dam would’ve gone. On the trip there, a series of roadside signs caught our attention, and I still remember the rhyme:
A flooded valley,
We don’t deserve,
The rhyme was referring strictly to water conservation, but it seems to me that saving water- and indeed all natural resources- does not just mean using less. The Big Darby, along with all our waterways and natural areas, deserve our lasting protection. Had better heads not prevailed, Battelle Darby would’ve been under 50 feet of water today, and Columbus- and Ohio- would be without one of its best natural areas.
Last week, it was announced that the owner of the Columbus Crew MLS team- Anthony Precourt- was considering moving the team. His reasons, whether one believes them to be true, include the idea that the current home stadium- Mapre- is outdated and in a bad location to attract the needed attendance to make the team financially viable. The stadium, which was the first soccer-specific stadium of its kind in the United States, is just 18 years old. However, being still relatively young, it is currently one of the most bare-bones professional soccer stadiums in the country, and it’s location at the Ohio State Fairgrounds is not particularly good. The stadium itself is surrounded by vacant and parking lots as well as a mish-mash of development that leaves the area feeling rather desolate. For years, there has been talk about building a new stadium closer to or in Downtown itself. The city, according to officials, have tried to talk with Precourt about either buying the team or trying to come up with a stadium plan, but were apparently rebuffed. This may be because Precourt had long-established plans to move the team to Austin, Texas, an out clause that he intentionally added to the contract when he purchased the team. So while the Mayor and others discuss the future of the team, there’s a practical matter to solve.
I don’t want to go too much more into the debate about Precourt, his motives or how likely it is that the Crew will stay in Columbus even with the promise of a new arena. Those subjects are already being debated on other sites, including the Dispatch and Reddit and other forums. So, what I want to do is to look at where a potential new stadium could even go. Let’s look at the potential options.
The Scioto Peninsula has long been underutilized and empty since its old manufacturing buildings were torn down between the 1970s and the early 2000s.
Pros: More than enough room for a new stadium as well as surrounding mixed-use development. Great location Downtown on the Riverfront.
Cons: This site has an existing mixed-use development plan already in place, and an Indianapolis company has recently been chosen to develop the Peninsula, with a potential construction start in Spring 2018. It would seem unlikely that those plans would be scrapped at the last minute.
Arena District Site #1
The Arena District is a thriving neighborhood that would be a perfect fit for a new stadium.
Pros: Already an established entertainment and sports neighborhood with stadiums for the Clippers and Blue Jackets, lots of local bars and restaurants, great location, enough space for a new stadium development.
Cons: As with the Scioto Peninsula, this site already has plans. Perhaps a new stadium could be incorporated, especially when the plan left a lot of open space with parking lots and retention ponds. The site is also split in half by railroad tracks that are still active. This would take some creative development to accommodate a stadium and any required infrastructure.
Arena District Site #2
Pros: Good location, enough space for a stadium, near bars, restaurants and other entertainment venues.
Cons: This site is owned by Nationwide. While no specific plans have been announced as of yet, they have stated for a few years now that they want to eventually do some kind of mixed-use development. Whether they would be willing to incorporate a stadium into those plans is unknown. The site is also somewhat separated from the rest of the AD by the railroad tracks on the east side. Another problem may be infrastructure. There is really only a single road- Nationwide Boulevard- in and out of this site. During games, this could be an issue unless it’s resolved or some kind of shuttle system is provided.
Cooper Stadium, the original home of the Columbus Clippers before they moved to the Arena District, has sat empty and rotting since 2010. The surrounding area, while not exactly great, is a perfect candidate for revitalization.
Pros: Enough room for a stadium, and with the potential purchase of nearby properties, enough to create a mixed-use development around it. Still close to Downtown.
Cons: This site is owned by Arshot, a development company that has long planned a race track development here called SPARC. However, there has been no movement on this development whatsoever, and most now believe that the project is dead. Would Arshot be willing to develop a soccer stadium there instead? Also, given that the site is surrounded by a cemetery on 2 sides affect the possible development?
On the north end of the Central Business District, this site has very large empty lots that are mostly used to store semi trailers, when they’re used at all.
Pros: Plenty of space, as Downtown as Downtown gets, plenty of nearby restaurant and bar options to create a neighborhood experience.
Cons: Abbott Labs owns the land. While much of it is only lightly used at best, they may not be willing to sell it.
The old site of the Jeffrey Manufacturing Plant, these vacant lots are in one of the most prime locations in the entire city.
Pros: Great location in the Short North/Italian Village, high levels of bars and restaurants nearby.
Cons: Most of the site north of Neruda Avenue has already been developed with housing. I’m not sure if there is enough space to the south for a new stadium and some kind of parking garage (parking is already very tight in the area). Again, this could be potentially solved with a shuttle or transit system from existing lots/garages Downtown, though. I’m also not sure if the current developers would be willing to sell it, and NIMBYism would likely be fierce from local residents.
Columbus State Parking Lots
On the northeast side of the Central Business District, Columbus State Community College’s land includes one of the largest areas of surface parking lots anywhere in the city.
Pros: Great location, plenty of space to develop.
Cons: Columbus State owns the land and has long-term plans to develop these. It’s doubtful that they’d be willing to incorporate a stadium here and lose valuable expansion space.
Unconventional Possibilities Westland Mall
Westland Mall hasn’t been functional for many years, and its last and original tenant- Sears- recently abandoned the site as well. There have been no plans announced for the mall and it otherwise rots and prevents the improvement of the Far West Side.
Pros: The defunct mall site is enormous. A new stadium and new mixed-use neighborhood could basically be built from scratch. It also has excellent access to the Outerbelt.
Cons: Not Downtown or even close to it, so it wouldn’t solve the complaint about being too far from the core of the city. This area is also not particularly nice, and may suffer the same perception problems that the current stadium site has.
Mt. Carmel West
Mt. Carmel West, a long-time hospital in Franklinton, will be moving most of its operations to Grove City.
Pros: Close to Downtown, potential to create new entertainment district.
Cons: The site has many existing buildings that would have to be torn down or repurposed to fit a stadium and mixed-use development. Mt. Carmel has plans to create a mixed-use development eventually, anyway, but this would be one of the most difficult to remake.
Part of the Short North, Harrison West is a largely residential neighborhood. Off of 5th Avenue is a large parking lot and empty land that Battelle is selling off for redevelopment.
Pros: Great location, should be enough space.
Cons: There is little extra room for mixed-use development, and neighbors would pull the same kind of strong NIMBYism that the Jeffrey Manufacturing site would face. There are also already tentative development plans, and it’s unknown if a stadium would work.
Ohio State Campus
Pros: While not exactly Downtown, Ohio State is already a destination in many ways- certainly for sports. There is land available, and the surrounding neighborhoods are much nicer than the current stadium location.
Cons: Ohio State has long-term plans for practically every square inch of land it owns. Would they be willing to part with enough for a stadium? And could an attached mixed-use development come into play?
So there you have it, my list of potential Crew Stadium locations. What do you think? Am I missing any good ones?