The Week in Review #3




Last week’s big news was one that has me very excited. The Columbus Metropolitan Library announced that it had reached an agreement with The Columbus Dispatch and its parent company to purchase the rights to its entire newspaper collection, which it will make available in digital form on its website as early as November. The Columbus Dispatch has been publishing since 1871, but the library has had Dispatch content from 1985-present only, and only in text format for a limited number of articles. The agreement will allow the library to offer every issue of the paper online since 1871 in its entirety, including its enormous photograph collection.
This is an massive win and game-changer for researchers and history buffs alike. This information has largely been difficult to access. Microfilm at the library was impossible to search through unless you knew the exact date of an article. The digital collection will allow for easy searching for any content with just a simple search box, as it has with its other digital collections.

The other news this week was the ongoing saga with the North Market Tower project. A few weeks back, I posted renderings that were released, perhaps be accident, on an architect’s website. Well, this week we saw yet another rendering, seen below:

All I can say is… I hope to god this isn’t the final design. Not only is it shorter (and the planners promised that the project would absolutely NOT be reduced in height regardless of the final design), but it has none of the interesting architecture of any previous renderings. It’s just another box on top of another box. I call this style Modern Vanilla. It’s so painfully boring and architecturally sterile that to see this being built would remove all the excitement from this project. The height reduction would be pure Columbus.

The Week in Review #1




This series will be a quick rundown of the past week in Columbus, so they will be posted on Sundays.

First, in terms of development, we had a few updates.
-The Market Tower project at the North Market has apparently gotten a new design.
It’s gone from this-

To this-

The new design may actually be at least 40 stories instead of the originally-proposed 35. No official announcements on the height increase have been released, but I suspect we’ll be hearing something soon on this.

-The Gravity 2.0 project in Franklinton got its initial approvals from the neighborhood development commission, including approval on the 12-story tower, which has also gotten an updated rendering, seen below.

-Nationwide Childrens Hospital made national news for its ongoing investment in the Near South Side. Read that article here: https://www.citylab.com/equity/2018/09/when-a-hospital-plays-housing-developer/569800/

August 2018 Missed- and Gained- Opportunities of the Month



Instead of focusing on a single project this month, I wanted to do a rundown of a few projects- this time both good and bad.

First, the bad.

High and Cherry Street Project
In what’s becoming a tradition for Downtown, yet another project there has been inexplicably downsized. Originally approved back in 2016, the project required the demolition of a historic building.

Photo taken in 2015.

This was generally considered okay because the proposed 11-story project was a significant improvement in density that would’ve added more vibrancy to this part of Downtown.

The 11-story rendering in 2016.

Two years later and, beyond the demolition, there had been no movement on the site, which was itself a little concerning because that typically means that something’s gone wrong or there are about to be big changes for the project. So it was no surprise when, toward the end of July, we received the bad news. Not only was the project going to be reduced in size by a full 4 stories, but all aspects of the project were getting worse. Parking spaces doubled, bike parking spaces were reduced by 70% to just 18, the ground floor retail was completely eliminated and overall residential units fell by 50 to just 70 total. Worse still, even the design of the building became just another bland box.

So what happened? Crawford-Hoying, the developer, made some reference to rising material costs that made its plan to include affordable, micro-unit apartments too expensive, hence the reduction in project size. However, this excuse seems suspicious at best. If higher material costs were a detriment to building the affordable component, why not simply lower the number of micro units or change to a market-rate project altogether? Furthermore, what would that have to do with eliminating the retail space or increasing parking? It wouldn’t. In fact, building parking is actually very expensive, and it’s why many cities nationally are reducing or eliminating parking requirements for new projects, as it is often prohibitively expensive to build and can derail quality urban proposals. If finances were tight, the last thing a developer would do with a new project is add MORE parking rather than trying to maximize potential income with residential units or retail space. Meanwhile, in the month since the project reduction was announced, we have seen other new projects announced or previously-announced projects move forward that have seen no reduction. The company also didn’t make any changes to its 10-story Moxy Hotel project at 800 N. High street, which is currently under construction. Overall, this just feels like a bait and switch. The 11-story proposal was approved, which allowed for the demolition, and now it’s coming in smaller and of a lower quality.
Regardless of the real reasons why this project was suburbanized and reduced, it continues the long-standing pattern of Downtown projects being underwhelming. Downtown should be receiving the the statement makers, so to speak. Instead, we continue to see other neighborhoods get them.

Speaking of, let’s look at the good with a couple of proposals that have matched, if not exceeded, their potential.

Upper Arlington’s Arlington Gateway
Proposed back in 2016 as a 7-story mixed-use building, the project has gone through many revisions. Over the course of the last 2 years, the project has only grown in size to its final iteration, an 11-story with more than 200 apartments, office space and retail. The $100 million project is the largest ever proposed for Upper Arlington, which has long been a more traditional suburban-style inner suburb. It has resisted the urban densification movement until recently. Being landlocked, the only way that it can increase population and maintain tax levels is to build up. Its city leadership seems to understand this, and though there was neighborhood opposition to the project, the city approved it almost unanimously.

The project will replace suburban development, including a strip center and Pizza Hut, as seen below.

Quality urbanism, increased walkability… this is a solid addition to Upper Arlington.

Franklinton’s Gravity 2.0
Franklinton is seeing a revival these days, particularly east of 315. Multiple projects have been proposed, and the upcoming Scioto Peninsula redevelopment is on the horizon. Kaufman Development, highlighted in last month’s Missed Opportunity for having to abandon a project in Victorian Village due to NIMBYism, has been on somewhat of a roll lately. It spearheaded a significant renovation of the famed LeVeque Tower, it built both of Downtown’s largest recent projects- 250 High and 80 on the Commons (the latter of which was, of course, downsized)- and it’s heavily investing in the future of Franklinton with a stunning, out-of-the-box development named Gravity.

Gravity 1.0

The Gravity 1.0 site in 2014.

Gravity 1.0 was proposed back in 2016 as a 6-story, mixed-use development at 500 W. Broad Street
Replacing a few single-story, non-historic buildings and some parking lots (as seen above), the project was designed to drastically change the existing streetscape. It began construction in late 2016 and is nearing completion now. Few anticipated a second phase of the project, however, dubbed Gravity 2.0
The latest 12-story proposal for Gravity 2.0.

Another Broad Street component of Gravity 2.0.

Announced last week, Gravity 2.0 would be much more massive in scale than 1.0. Proposed for the entire block directly across the street between W. Broad and W. State, the project would include the following:
– A 12-story mixed-use building at the northeast corner of the site, directly to the west of the railroad tracks. This would contain 258 apartments.
– A 6-story residential building on the State Street with 94 units.
– A 5-story parking garage.
– A 6-story mixed-use addition to the existing Murphy building, which will be renovated.
– A 5-story townhouse building along McDowell Street with 18 units.
– A renovation to the existing Solazzo Building at the southwest corner.
Like Gravity 1.0, the project will include different types of amenities than would be typically found. These include a green roof on the parking garage with a “city view overlook”, as well as an art walk through the lower floor of the garage. Along Broad Street, a retail plaza will be constructed out of shipping containers. Co-living will be included in the southern residential building. A food hall, brewery and restaurants are also potentially in the works. Overall, the architecture will match the funky modernism of Gravity 1.0.

This project is poised to become a serious game-changer for Franklinton. While there was already ongoing redevelopment in this area, a mid-rise development like this pushes the envelope and raises the prospects of future development coming in bigger, and the pace of the redevelopment will likely accelerate. This also increases the likelihood that the Scioto Peninsula to the east will see larger scale development, as well. Originally, the city wanted a couple 30+ story buildings there, with a mix of other mid-rise buildings. That plan was abandoned when an Indianapolis developer was chosen for the site and proposed mostly low-rise. That developer was let go from the project a few months ago, and the Peninsula will now be developed piece by piece. With large development occurring in Franklinton itself, the high-rises may be about to make a return, making the entire eastern section of Franklinton an extension of Downtown.

So there are a few great projects that are definitely NOT missed opportunities. Take note, Downtown developers- a lot of you are getting embarrassed.



The Columbus Crew and a Downtown Stadium



**2018 Update: The Crew was saved and Confluence Village, a new development with a new Crew Stadium, will be built at the Arena District site.

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.

Scioto Peninsula
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
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?

Abbott Labs
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.

Jeffrey Manufacturing
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.

Harrison West
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?


Before and After April 2017



**Note: Some photos have been updated for 2018.

I haven’t done a Before and After installment for a while. This time around, I chose to not focus on any single neighborhood.

First up is a photo of the construction of the Columbus Interurban Terminal, looking northwest from 3rd. The photo was taken on October 5, 1911, about 3 months before the building opened. The interurban system was relatively short-lived in the city, and the terminal closed after only 26 years in 1938. The building survived as a grocery store through the mid-1960s before the building was demolished in 1967 as part of the construction of the Greyhound Bus Terminal across the street. The actual location of the building was not on the Greyhound site, but was used as an overflow parking lot. It remained a parking lot until the mid-1980s, when it became part of the City Centre Mall site. Today, plans are for the site to become the location for the 12-story, 80 on the Commons mixed-use project.

October, 1911.

Here is the same place in October, 2018.

The second historic photo is of the #57 streetcar on Kelton Avenue just south of the Oak Street intersection. The photo, which looks north, was taken on June 30, 1915 and includes 3 separate visible buildings as well. The house on the left actually survived until 1977, when it and the rest of the east half of the block was demolished. The building visible on the right is the surviving streetcar barn. Today, it is in bad shape, and while many would like to see it renovated and saved, time seems to be running out. The other surviving building, barely visible in the 1915 photo, is the tenement building on the northwest corner of Oak and Kelton.

And in 2015:

Third in this list is a photo of the demolition of the old Franklin County Jail, once located at 36 E. Fulton Street in Downtown. Built in 1889, the structure survived until the fall of 1971, when the building, which by then had become outdated for its intended purpose, was torn down to make way for- what else- a parking garage. The parking garage remains to the present day. Columbus leaders at the time should’ve been flogged for such short-sighted thinking, something that was repeated over and over and over again during that era. Today, such a very cool, unique building would’ve made an excellent candidate for mixed-use conversion.

And in August, 2016:

Finally, this next photo isn’t really historic. It was taken a mere 15 years ago in February, 2002, looking northwest from the corner of N. High Street and 10th Avenue. At the time, this area had been made up of low-rise historic buildings that had long held bars for OSU students. All these buildings in the photo, and many more, were demolished not long after the photo was taken in order to make room for the South Campus Gateway, now more or less just called the Gateway. Similar large-scale demolitions are taking place to the north and south as the entirety of the High Street corridor around Campus is transformed. Whether that is good or bad depends on who you ask. What can be agreed upon, however, is that the corridor will be almost unrecognizable in the end.

And in October, 2016:



Random Columbus Photos #4



Date Photo Taken: 1989
Photo Location: Looking west on Broad Street from LeVeque Tower.

This photo is interesting for a few reasons. First, it shows the beginning of construction to replace the Broad Street Bridge over the Scioto River. After the Great Flood of 1913 destroyed an earlier Broad Street Bridge, the one in the photo was finished in 1921. By the early 1980s, the bridge was rapidly deteriorating and the decision was made to replace it. It’s reconstruction start, however, was delayed until 1988 due to a contract to keep the Columbus 500 auto race going, which used the bridge. The nearly identical new bridge was completed in 1992 at a cost of $13.2 million.
Across the bridge is the Scioto Peninsula. On the right is Vets Memorial, built in the 1950s and recently demolished to make way for a new memorial and museum as part of the redevelopment of the peninsula. On the left is the old Central High School, years before it was converted into COSI’s new location. Also of note are warehouse and other buildings that still existed on the peninsula, remnants of when this area was largely manufacturing. These were mostly demolished in the 1990s and early 2000s and were left as vacant lots for well over a decade, some of them becoming parking lots for COSI. These lots will soon become part of a large mixed-use development and park.

Random Columbus Photos #4



Date Photo Taken: 1989
Photo Location: Looking west on Broad Street from LeVeque Tower.

This photo is interesting for a few reasons. First, it shows the beginning of construction to replace the Broad Street Bridge over the Scioto River. After the Great Flood of 1913 destroyed an earlier Broad Street Bridge, the one in the photo was finished in 1921. By the early 1980s, the bridge was rapidly deteriorating and the decision was made to replace it. It’s reconstruction start, however, was delayed until 1988 due to a contract to keep the Columbus 500 auto race going, which used the bridge. The nearly identical new bridge was completed in 1992 at a cost of $13.2 million.
Across the bridge is the Scioto Peninsula. On the right is Vets Memorial, built in the 1950s and recently demolished to make way for a new memorial and museum as part of the redevelopment of the peninsula. On the left is the old Central High School, years before it was converted into COSI’s new location. Also of note are warehouse and other buildings that still existed on the peninsula, remnants of when this area was largely manufacturing. These were mostly demolished in the 1990s and early 2000s and were left as vacant lots for well over a decade, some of them becoming parking lots for COSI. These lots will soon become part of a large mixed-use development and park.

“Missed Opportunity”: The New Columbus Buzzwords



Okay, so ever since the urban movement resurfaced in the last 10 years or so, I have been patiently waiting for Columbus to get with the program. In some cases, it has… and here is pretty much the entire list of examples of the city being forward-thinking, or at the very least, following established urban development principles:

1. The Scioto Greenway and Scioto Mile
This project, completed in 2015, removed the low-head dam south of the Main Street Bridge. This lowered the water level of the Scioto River through Downtown, allowing for the creation of more than 30 acres of new park space. Walking and biking paths, landscaping and public art was included in the project, which also improved water quality in the Scioto and allowed for a more natural flow.

Scioto River restoration.

Scioto Mile

2. Getting rid of the City Center monstrosity for Columbus Commons park.
The 1989 City Center Mall, built in the typical suburban style that lacked any real street-level interaction, died a slow death due to competition. It was demolished in 2009 and Columbus Commons replaced it, complete with landscaping, restaurant space and a carousel. The park has been popular for warm-month events, and new development has sprung up around it.

Before

After

3. CoGo Bike-Share.
What started as 30 stations with 300 bikes a few years ago has grown to more than 40 stations, with future expansions planned.

4. Adopting the Complete Streets Infrastructure Program
The concept of Complete Streets is the idea that public infrastructure should think about more than just cars. It allows for the principles that all roads should have pedestrian infrastructure, and where possible, multi use paths and bike lanes.

5. The C-Bus
The Downtown circulator bus has been very popular, particularly because it is free to all.

I literally couldn’t think of any others, but perhaps someone can help me out with other examples? In any case, this part will focus largely on Downtown, with the next installment focusing on other areas of the urban core.

Back in 2002 when former mayor Mike Coleman helped initiate the first Downtown plan, it was built around the idea of a strong urban center, which Columbus hadn’t really had in decades, the Short North and German Village notwithstanding. His goal was to add 10,000 new residential units to Downtown by 2010. The city offered incentives like tax abatements to help make it happen. Unfortunately, the housing market in Columbus, like in just about every city, was severely impacted by the double recessions during the 2000s and Downtown ended up with less than 1/4th of the goal by 2010. While the economy was not Coleman’s fault and he was in fact fighting the good fight, the effort still ended up fairly underwhelming. Consider the very sobering facts about Downtown Columbus. In 2010, Downtown had 7,416 residents according to the Census report called “Distance Profiles for US Metropolitan Areas 2000 and 2010”. In the report, population profiles were given for each mile out from “City Hall”, or basically the center of each city’s downtown. Mile 0 measured the CBD, and Columbus’ 7,416 total was shockingly low for a city its size. In fact, of the 92 Midwestern metro areas of any size, Columbus’ downtown had the 15th lowest population. Out of major cities, it ranked dead last. The only bright bit of news was that it was just one of 22 Midwest downtowns that saw population growth between 2000 and 2010 (oh, and that the #15 worst ranking was actually an improvement from #8 worst in 2000), perhaps the only tangible result of the 2002 plan. I’ll get back to the population problem in a bit.

The lack of reaching 10,000 units during the 2000s was not the only casualty of the recession years. Coleman also revived the discussion about bringing rail to the city, but he did so in the form of streetcars, which seemed somewhat like a half-measure attempt. Ultimately it didn’t matter anyway. As soon as the economy crashed in 2007-2008, the plan was shelved without even getting on a ballot. Rail discussion has come and gone several times since then, but only in the context of multiple studies on potential routes and costs, but there have been zero serious discussions since 2007 about rail being something that is on its way to the city. Columbus remains the largest US city in the nation without passenger rail service of any kind, even as the economy has returned to normal and many other cities continue to expand or begin building systems of their own.
But rail is not the only transit misfire of recent years. Let’s talk about BRT. Dubbed the CMAX, a proposal to put Columbus’ first BRT (bus-rapid-transit) line on Cleveland Avenue was announced a few years back. The problem? It really isn’t BRT. BRT traditionally has dedicated lanes, fewer stops and bus stations that more closely resemble train platforms than the traditional bus shelter. Because of this, these buses typically run up to 50% faster along routes than a normal bus. With the CMAX, however, no dedicated lanes are planned whatsoever. Instead, the buses are supposed to get “signal priority” rather than separated lanes. This ensures that the bus will inevitably get stuck in traffic, and studies done on BRT systems overwhelmingly make the case that BRT in mixed traffic doesn’t significantly reduce route times or increase ridership. Technically, it isn’t even BRT. Oh, the stations will be fancier, as shown below, but fancy stations don’t actually make for a BRT system. Why transit leadership would make such a stupid mistake is beyond me, especially when there are already plenty of examples of better systems out there.

CMax station.

But wait, there’s more! Without rail, and with half-assed BRT that is still years away from being built on a single road, those wishing to use transit in Columbus have to rely on COTA and its bus system. Long using the outdated spoke system from Downtown, COTA finally decided it was time to redesign its system, which will include adding more express routes, extending hours and rearranging existing routes to better serve areas where people actually live and work. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it is still COTA will all its problems. You still need actual money to ride, as there is no rechargeable card, something cities across the country have used for years, and there is no live tracking system to show where buses are relative to bus stops. COTA actually paid a firm to design such a live tracking system, but it failed miserably and they were forced to go back to the drawing board. So far, there is no word on when or if a 2.0 version will arrive.

So let’s face it, transit sucks in Columbus. The city has long had a reputation as a car-first city, and it is hard to argue otherwise. This brings me back to Downtown and the urban core in general. Once upon a time, Downtown and adjacent neighborhoods were some of the most dense in Ohio. Population peaked by 1950 around 30,000 just in Downtown alone, but then followed several disastrous decades of “Urban Renewal”. I can’t say for a fact that UR affected Columbus more than most cities, but it is hard to argue with the results. Block after block after block of densely-built historic buildings were demolished for parking lots, most of which still exist to this very day. The population Downtown plummeted to barely 2,000 by 1980 before beginning its slow ascent again to the still pathetic 7,416 in 2010. This indiscriminate destruction was compounded by the highways that were deliberately plowed through urban neighborhoods, something which even Eisenhower, proponent of the national highway system, was appalled by. The Near East and Near South communities like German Village and Old Towne East were suddenly cut off from Downtown. While the historic German Village did better given that it had a dedicated group of proponents to revitalize the area, OTE and King-Lincoln saw their populations collapse. Thousands of historic homes not destroyed by the highways were left to rot, and many of them succumbed to the Urban Renewal wrecking ball eventually. The bottom line is that the urban core was hurt badly, and for a long, long time, no one understood the consequences of that.

By the mid-1980s, Downtown alone had over 65,000 parking spaces, but as I said above, very little population. It had become a place for office workers to abandon after 5pm on weekdays, and weekends were a ghost town. City leaders had long been discussing ways to bring life back to the core, but in a classic Columbus folly, thought the best way to do that was to build a suburban enclosed mall in the middle of Downtown. To do so, blocks of historic buildings that had managed to survive nearly 4 decades of destruction were demolished. When City Center and its monster Capital South Parking Garage were opened in 1989, it lacked the necessary characteristics that encourage pedestrian activity. People literally drove into the garage and went into the mall without ever stepping foot onto a sidewalk. Not surprisingly, Downtown retail not associated with the mall collapsed and the area ended up even more dead than before. Exactly 20 years later, in 2009, the mall itself came down after failing to compete with newer suburban malls. Some people mourned its loss, but not me. Unfortunately, the city-block sized parking garage remained. As mentioned above, City Center was replaced with a park, Columbus Commons.

The park plan received a LOT of negative feedback. Many were convinced that it would just become a place for the homeless to squat in or piss on new landscaping, or for criminals to lurk behind bushes waiting to strike. It was all pretty silly, and ultimately, none of that happened. The park, with the help of a robust schedule of yearlong activities planned by the city, became an almost instant success. A new stage on the north end allowed such events like Picnic with the Pops, from the Columbus Orchestra, to move Downtown from elsewhere. Also, even before the construction of the park, part of the new land was set aside for mixed-use construction. It was assumed then that it might take a decade to fill in the sections along High Street or the corner of 3rd and Rich. However, the new park being the success as it was, combined with the new Scioto Mile a few blocks away, made this area attractive to new development. All good so far, right? Here is where things took a turn towards “missed opportunity” in a big way.

An Atlanta-based developer, Carter, and Moody Nolan proposed a 6-story project called HighPoint at Columbus Commons for the entire section of the park along High Street. The problem? High Street is arguably the city’s most prominent urban commercial corridor. The city had, not long before that, instituted recommended standards for High Street Downtown that called for minimum 10-stories. Worse, the design for HighPoint was terrible. The materials were cheap, and it was basically just a large box with tiny windows. The 300+ residential units (in 2 buildings) were a plus, as was the ground floor retail, but the scale of the project was simply too small for such a large site. The bad design just made it worse. Initial excitement over development coming to the Commons so soon after its construction faded pretty quickly with such a mediocre proposal. Unfortunately, the project received all the variances it needed and was built pretty much as proposed. It looked even worse in reality than it did in proposal form. It is now considered one of the worst projects built in the core in the last decade. Worse still, the retail sections have struggled to fill, and only very recently has there been any news on the spaces being rented.

HighPoint as it was originally proposed.

HighPoint completed.

HighPoint wouldn’t be Downtown’s only recent development missed opportunity. With such low Downtown population, one would think going for the most underwhelming result shouldn’t be the goal, or at least following recently adopted guidelines would be a priority, but that has proven to not be remotely true. While great developments like the Commons, Scioto Mile and the Scioto Greenways have activated RiverSouth construction, more often than not, the proposed projects have been vastly underwhelming for their Downtown locations. Before getting to the missed opportunities, let’s talk about the few RiverSouth projects that have bucked the trend.
At the northeast intersection of S. High and E. Main, a parking lot had existed since the late 1980s, when construction of the adjacent Capital South Garage was completed for City Center. The narrow lot had once had a proposal for a 4-5 story apartment project around 2003, but that never got very far. The 12-story, 250 High project was announced in 2013. The mixed-use project would contain 156 apartments, office space and ground floor retail. Completed in 2015, the project has been very successful with high demand for its office space in particular.

250High

Another decent project for the area is the LC at RiverSouth project at S. High and Town, which consists of an 8 and a 10-story mixed-use building with over 200 residential units and ground floor retail. Construction has been extremely slow on this project, but finally may be going vertical over the next few months.

Finally, we have the Julian, a 90-unit renovation of a former factory building at S. Front and W. Main.

Before in 2009.

The completed Julian in 2015.

3 solid projects. Moving on to the problems though, there is a project in the RiverSouth that came about during the 2000s that is every bit the missed opportunity that later projects in the area would be- The Annex at RiverSouth. Lifestyle Communities, or LC as it is commonly known, took advantage of Coleman’s tax incentives to propose a condo project on two giant surface parking lots between W. Rich and W. Town along S. Front Street. These sites had been transitioning to parking since at least the 1950s and all buildings had been demolished by the 1980s. They remained this way through the mid-2000s, when LC, which had largely focused on building suburban apartment complexes previously, decided to enter the Downtown market with the Annex project. The two lots were pretty much some of the most prime real estate in all of Downtown, as they were just a block west of High and a block east of the river. A project of height could’ve taken advantage of some fantastic views of Downtown and the riverfront, as there were mostly low rise buildings between the site and the river itself, and the large sizes of the lots- the largest left west of High Street Downtown, were perfect for signature development. Instead, LC decided to bring suburbia into the city. It proposed a 4-story condominium development. There were no mixed-use elements, such as retail, associated with the project in any way. Yet again the Downtown Commission let the project fly through approvals with nary a change from the original proposal. To be fair, the design of the Annex is significantly better than HighPoint, but the scale was and is massively undersized for the location. Its lack of retail meant that anyone living in the complex had to go elsewhere to shop and eat. This would really be the first project that the Downtown Commission would ignore its own development guidelines to approve. HighPoint was next… and then there were a lot more.

LC somewhat redeemed itself a few years later with the proposal of the LC RiverSouth project mentioned above. Similar name, but a much different development from the Annex, so perhaps LC learned a few things in year years between them. Or maybe not, considering its most recent proposal for the northwest corner of W. Main and S. Front. Named The Matan, the proposal would include 117 apartments and retail. Unfortunately and once again, the 5-story proposal is far too small for its prime location.

Now, for some, the prospect of this project is a major positive, because it replaces a surface lot and adds population density and retail to a part of Downtown that needs it. It also has a bit better design and it restores a neighboring historic building instead of demolishing it. This is not a missed opportunity because of those factors, but because it does so in the most bare minimum of ways, much in the same way that HighPoint or the Annex did before it. Adding something where nothing currently exists is of course a positive, but it is also setting the bar as low as it can possibly go in terms of development. Consider the proposal for just across the street, at the southwest corner of W. Main and S. Front.
The 75-unit, 5-story apartment building, as yet unnamed, is even worse than the Matan. Besides also being far too small for the location, it also completely leaves ground floor retail out. Instead, the first 2 floors will be, what else… parking. So rather than building pedestrian level momentum on Front, which severely lacks it, the Downtown development commission is allowing projects to move through without encouraging even mixed-use elements. Why?

For being called RiverSouth, it seems developers don’t believe that anyone actually wants to see the river.

RiverSouth is hardly the only area seeing underwhelming projects Downtown. Take a look at some others.

Northwest corner of Gay and N. High Street.

This 230-unit, 3-building project will be just 6 stories on some of the very last surface lots on High Street Downtown, once again in a corridor that adopted standards stresses a minimum of 10 stories. And while the design itself is not terrible, and there is retail, the design setbacks only enhance the fact that the project is far too small in scale for an entire block of High Street.
Southwest corner of Front and Long:

This 8-story city office building is, once again, underwhelming in scale and design. Its design actually looks very similar to the Franklin County Courthouse building constructed a few years ago. See below:

Very similar, right? Also, the project includes a new parking garage on the northwest corner of Long and Front. Front currently has more than half a dozen large parking garages already. Not a single one of them has any mixed-use elements, such as residential or office above, or retail on the ground floor. This new garage will not have it, either, creating one more dead zone when the city could’ve been more forward-thinking.
Northwest corner of S. 3rd and E. Rich:
Original proposal.

The southeast corner of Columbus Commons was originally proposed to be developed by something 20 stories or above. When the proposal for 17-story Two25 first came out, it was already a little disappointing. The news release, however, suggested the mixed-use project could go higher depending on demand. However, it was recently announced the Two25 would instead have its height cut by 5 full floors and would only be 12 stories. No real explanation was given, beyond the developer claiming that Columbus had not reached adequate $-per-square-foot returns for the larger project, despite extremely high demand for Class A office space and high 90s occupancy rates with residential. So basically, the developer didn’t buy into the idea that there was enough demand, despite every other mixed-use project, including 12-story 250 High, filling up rapidly.
Northeast corner of E. Long and N. Fourth:

An as yet unnamed 10-story proposal is a missed opportunity for a few reasons. Originally, this was supposed to be 5 stories taller and for some reason, in what has become an all too familiar story, was reduced. Further, a good chunk of the site will be yet another parking garage for Downtown (there are now almost 30 garages and nearly 300 surface lots- think about that for a minute). The parking garage will not have retail on the ground floor, but rather office space for the developer. So instead of putting the offices on the 2nd floor of the garage and having retail/restaurant space on the ground floor to activate the street, this section of Fourth will remain a dead zone. Worse still, the garage will be the prominent look at the intersection, rather than the residential. Rather than address these flaws, the Downtown Commission caught the vapors and swooned in approval.
Basically all of Neighborhood Launch:
Okay, so I am going to get some flack for this, but hear me out. Overall, I do like this development. The quality of construction is there, design is good and it is replacing several surface lots and creating a much more vibrant area. However, there are some flaws that need to be mentioned. First of all, it is simply too small in scale, like many other developments Downtown. While there are a few 5-story buildings, most of it is 3 stories. The height/density is less of an issue, though, than the complete lack of mixed-use elements in a development that has several hundred units. Even in the 5-story buildings on E. Long, there is no retail. Part of creating an urban neighborhood is not just about getting people to live there, but also giving them amenities, and Neighborhood Launch lacks those amenities. There seems to be little to no regard for giving residents something to do. Even a corner café would be something, but just like in the Annex at RiverSouth, residents currently have to go elsewhere.

While in this post I have focused largely on Downtown, this is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is going on around the rest of the city, and the situation may actually be worse elsewhere *coughClintonvillecough*. If Columbus wants to be a major, vibrant city, it has to act like one and not simply pay the concept lip service. Things like expanding transit should be a priority and development should not only match demand, but in order to reach the potential of what could be, it should be encouraged to push the envelope of what is possible rather than merely meeting the bare minimum of standards, or sometimes not even meeting them at all. Columbus should not be a city of missed opportunities, but rather one of exceeding expectations whenever possible. When its downtown is already one of the least populated of nearly 100 Midwest peers, it seems clear that going bare minimum is not going to get the job done. You can do better Columbus.



Failed Project #2- Gay and Front City Office Tower



Beginning in 1984 and continuing into 1985, a parking garage/city office project was being tossed around to house an increasing number of city office works. Space had become tight and many existing buildings were more than 50 years old and required extensive renovations. The Daimler Group started construction on the 10-story garage part of the project at the southeast corner of W. Gay and N. Front in late 1984. The 16-story office project that would’ve been built on top (for a total 26-story building) was just one of 3 options the city was considering to alleviate its office problems. The other two options consisted of a $75 million civic center about a block north of City Hall, or simply renovating the existing buildings.

In the end, it was deemed that there were too many other problems to spend public dollars on. At the time, there was quite an issue with road maintenance funding, and the city deemed that it was not the right time to build a brand new tower for city workers. By April 1985, the project was dead, although the garage was finished and remains to this day.

The Gay and Front garage in 2015.

Ironically, within a few years, the city would have several much larger office towers. 5 new towers were built between 1986 and 1991, though not all were specifically built for city offices. Renovation of existing buildings has been ongoing since.

Random Columbus Photos #3



Photo Date: November 1, 1914
Location: 136 E. Broad Street

The photo shows the ongoing excavation of the Columbus Athletic Club. It was conceived a few years prior as a social club in 1912 by a group of wealthy Columbus businessmen. The organization was originally housed in the Atlas Building at Gay and High, but wanted their own building. Construction began in early 1914 and the 6-story building was dedicated in 1915. The 100-year-old institution, now on the National Register of Historic Places, looks pretty much the same as it did when it was first built, and it remains a private club to this day. Over the years, the club has had many prominent members, including politicians and even a president, Warren G. Harding.