Downtown Living Comes Back to Life

From the June 2013 issue of Columbus CEO

It seemed to take forever, but Central Ohio has finally shaken off the last vestiges of winter. Though summer isn’t here yet, there are still ample opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities again—without donning earmuffs and a parka.

The streets of downtown Columbus are bustling with more pedestrians. Restaurants have brought their umbrella tables out of storage. Lines at local coffee shops are longer, to the chagrin of those in search of a caffeine fix to jump-start their day.

In early May, Columbus Commons kicked off its slate of activities, including exercise classes, Shakespeare in the Park and the popular lunchtime Food Truck Food Court on Thursdays. The proximity of our offices to the Commons makes the latter especially tempting, particularly with the addition of Mikey’s Late Night Slice and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. Salty caramel near the carousel? Swoon. Just don’t tell the kids.

Before long, the Scioto Mile fountains will fire up again, the Columbus Arts Festival will set up shop at the riverfront (mark your calendar for June 7-9) and the central city will be abuzz with activity.

But it wasn’t long ago that Downtown lacked restaurants with outdoor seating, let alone eateries that stayed open past 4 p.m. The lawn at Columbus Commons was still City Center Mall, whose only recreational use was as a place for hide-and-seek once all the stores were shuttered. Looking for something to do on the weekend? The best bet was a nice drive through town on your way to a nearby suburb.

There’s no doubt Downtown is a far different place today than it was 10, or even five, years ago. It’s that newfound vibrancy that local developers aim to capitalize on with the current residential building boom. In contrast to the condo boom of the mid-2000s that went bust amid the Great Recession, a new trend has taken over: Downtown apartments.

Developers have so far found success building upscale, amenity-laden rental properties in and around the central city. The arts, culture and nightlife are drawing young professionals, recent grads and empty nesters alike to plunk down a sometimes-hefty chunk of change each month in exchange for the conveniences of city living. Some new complexes have actually leased all their units before the doors even opened.

For this month’s cover story, reporter Kitty McConnell spoke with city and civic officials as well as development and commercial real estate professionals to find out what’s driving this rush to rent and whether it will turn out differently than the condo crush. Their answers may surprise you.