Eating and lodging have been transformed with new chains, more hotel beds.
Dining or staying overnight in a hotel has changed dramatically since Columbus CEO first hit the streets 25 years ago as Columbus grew both in the core city and the outlying communities.
Developers accommodated the expansion of the dining scene with other retail projects—and particularly movie theaters—in the 1990s and early 2000s, even as new sports venues were built.
In 1992, fine dining in Columbus meant the Clarmont south of Downtown, the sky-high Christopher's atop the Riffe Center on Capitol Square or One Nation on the top floor of the Nationwide Insurance HQ near the original Ohio Center convention center. Diners also favored the Peasant on the Lane in Upper Arlington or the Morton's of Chicago steakhouse.
None of those restaurants remain, with the Clarmont south of Downtown renovated into a Panera Bread café and the Kahiki Supper Club closed in east Columbus in August 2000 to make way for a Walgreens drugstore.
Another dining landmark, the Jai Lai club at 1421 Olentangy River Road, shut down in August 1996 after a 41-year run at the location frequented by legendary OSU football coach Woody Hayes. The large venue served as the Buckeye Hall of Fame Café from 1997 to 2010, when the building was demolished for a Springhill Suites hotel.
The Zagat-rated Refectory, however, has survived on Bethel Road for more than 40 years. Meanwhile, the Bravo Brio Restaurant Group in 1992 opened its first of six restaurants in Columbus.
Other closed restaurants include Engine House No. 5, the Damon's chain of BBQ-and-trivia fame, and earlier this year, the original German Village location of Max & Erma's, which had built a multi-state chain before it began a slow and steady decline.
Even the venerable 55 Group collection of restaurants so popular in the 1990s also has faded away.
The top-notch Handke's Cuisine that opened in 1991 under master chef Hartmut Handke closed in mid-2009 under a successor operator. But noted chef Hubert Seifert's well-regarded Spagio remains active along the fertile Grandview Avenue entertainment strip in Grandview Heights.
Restaurant industry consultant Bob Welcher says, “The whole dynamics of the industry have changed” since 1992. “Columbus was more of a (national) chain town. A lot of those (restaurants) have fallen by the wayside.” But that is not unusual in the business area. “Everything has a life cycle as restaurant owners deal with different tastes and changing demographics,” says the owner and president of Restaurants Consultants Inc.
Indeed, Bravo Brio CEO Brian O'Malley says local restaurants have gained an upper hand in Columbus.
Brothers Rick and Chris Doody opened their first Bravo Cucina Italiana on Hayden Run Road in the old Cadillac Café in September 1992 and have since grown to 115 Bravo, Brio Tuscan Grille and Bon Vie Bistro restaurants in 32 states with local sites at Crosswoods, Easton, Polaris developments as well as, more recently, the Lennox Town Center near Ohio State. “We kind of circled the area and got into the best markets,” O'Malley says.
Columbus restaurateur Cameron Mitchell, a veteran of the Max & Erma's and 55 Group operations, also spread out. He now has 15 restaurants in Columbus as he diversified his menu beyond his inaugural Cameron's Contemporary Cuisine (now American Bistro) in a Worthington retail strip center in 1993. His collection now includes the casual Cap City Diner, steakhouses, four upscale restaurants in the Short North and an Ocean Club seafood restaurant at Easton.
It also operates M, a premier white-tablecloth restaurant in the Miranova office and residential complex on the southwest edge of Downtown.
Even as the restaurant industry matured, Columbus saw the movie theater market expand since the Lennox 24 between Grandview and Ohio State opened in December 1996. Other mega-screen cinemas have opened at Easton, Crosswoods, Buckeye Parkway in Grove City and others since, although screens in Downtown's Arena District closed earlier this year.
The region's hotel scene also has experienced many changes.
The Downtown lodging market has expanded by nearly 2,000 guest rooms atop the roughly 2,400 rooms available in 1992, according to a list of regional hotels provided by the Experience Columbus travel and tourism bureau. And another 600 or so rooms may get built among several boutique properties planned for the Short North in the next two years as a cool alternative to the standard hotel experience when attending a convention. When the 532-room Hilton convention hotel opened in October 2012, it marked the first full-service property to open since the Adam's Mark (now rebranded as a Renaissance by Marriott) reopened in the shuttered Sheraton on North Third and East Gay streets in March 1997. The Crowne Plaza added 99 rooms to its North High Street and East Nationwide Boulevard hotel later that year. And the former Hyatt on Capitol Square is now a Sheraton.
Creation of a new convention center in 1993 and subsequent expansions in 2001 and 2016/2017 drove the development of many of the new properties, such as the adaptive re-use of an older building for a Red Roof Inn on Nationwide Boulevard and Columbus hotelier David Patel's Hampton Inn at North High and Spruce streets. The opening of the Nationwide Arena for the Columbus Blue Jackets hockey franchise in October 2000 also has encouraged construction of new hotels to serve those attending Blue Jackets hockey games or concerts in the venue.
The venerable Hilton brand returned to Columbus in 2000 when a 345-room upscale, full-service property opened as part of the Easton Town Center complex off Stelzer Road south of Morse Road. A smaller, 252-room Hilton opened in the Polaris Centers of Commerce mixed-used development in 2008. The Easton Hilton recently completed renovations in September.
The Olentangy River Road corridor has expanded in the last 15 years with several properties replacing all but one of the motor lodges of decades past.
“Ohio State lodging,” says CBRE hotel broker Eric Belfrage, “was getting pretty old and tired.” One such property, the University Plaza Hotel, gave way in the last two years to a full-service Marriott and Residence Inn. The Holiday Inn on the Lane, however, closed in early 2009 after Ohio State purchased the property to transform it into student dorms.
Brian Ball is a freelance writer.
Our look-back stories in 10 key sectors show the only constant of the past quarter century has been tremendous growth and change.