Dublin officials are working with developers and planners to create a walkable, urban space designed to attract young professionals and empty nesters.

Dublin officials are working with developers and planners to create a walkable, urban space designed to attract young professionals and empty nesters.

Grand ideas are just that until the first pile of dirt is turned over and those concepts start becoming reality. That may be the best way to describe what is happening in Dublin as the suburb moves forward with its plan to forge a new urban environment in the center of the community.

The Bridge Street District has been on the drawing board for a few years and got the go-ahead from Dublin City Council earlier this year. It is an ambitious vision-culled from the input of planners, residents, architects and land-use experts-that calls for using the Scioto River and historic Old Dublin as jumping-off points for a community that encourages walking; connects both sides of the river via pedestrian bridges; and entices the types of commercial and residential developments that will attract younger residents and fuel Dublin's vibrancy.

"This isn't just about responding to the marketplace; it adds value to the entire city," said Terry Foegler, who is the city's director of strategic planning and special projects, as well as the quarterback for the Bridge Street District project.

The plan also reflects trends that portend shifts in where people are living and what they want out of their communities. In a nutshell, residents want to rely less on their vehicles to get from place to place, live closer to work, have more housing options and live in more densely populated areas. Which, by the way, is exactly what their parents didn't want when they fled from the urban core to the Dublins of the world a generation ago.

Interest by developers has been palpable, said Dublin planner Rachel Ray, adding that small items like signage requests within the district have already been approved. Thus far, none have been "transformative" projects, she said. But those efforts are on the horizon.

Brent Crawford, president of the Crawford Hoying development firm, said a mixed-use housing and commercial project it's planning will span both sides of the Scioto, cover more than 35 acres and include 1,100 apartments, 100 homes, offices, retail and possibly a hotel. Construction is to start in mid-2014 with the first piece opening in late 2015. The estimated $300 million project will be completed in four to five years.

Should the development and amenities the city envisions come to fruition, a portion of Dublin's landscape will change dramatically.

"With the investment the city is making in its infrastructure with pedestrian bridges, parks and roads, we feel as though we are as ideally located as (one could be) in all of Dublin," Crawford said.

The Bridge Street District boundaries are loosely defined by Interstate 270 and Route 33 on the west and north, Sawmill Road on the east and properties fronting Bridge Street and West Dublin-Granville Road to the south. The entire district encompasses 1,200 acres, yet accounts for just 6 percent of Dublin's total land mass; of that, 2 percent is undeveloped. It is a very small, albeit important, slice the city believes it can capitalize on.

Turning the district into reality will not happen overnight. Dublin expects it to take three to five years, aided by a significant investment from the city and coordination with private developers.

Already, the city has spent $9 million acquiring properties it needs for infrastructure improvements such as a roundabout traffic circle at Route 161 and Riverside Drive, the possible relocation of Riverside Drive and a new park in the area. The city has committed to spending $30 million to $50 million on capital improvement projects within the district over the next five years.

In a major departure from past policies, Dublin also amended its zoning code to open up hundreds of acres to the development of high-density projects, such as the kind of apartment complexes that are attractive to a younger workforce.

So why is Dublin embarking on this endeavor in 2013?

The city remains one of the wealthiest communities in Central Ohio and a desirable place to live. Census data shows median household income in 2011 was $106,529, nearly a 17 percent increase from 2000. The private sector is incredibly strong with corporations such as Verizon Wireless, Cardinal Health, Wendy's, Nationwide Insurance, FiServ and OCLC either based in Dublin or having a strong presence there. The city has a bustling IT sector and hosts major sports events like the annual Memorial Tournament and this year's Presidents Cup.

But, as real estate analyst Rob Vogt noted, plans like the Bridge Street District are not unique to Dublin. It's all about the demographics.

"I think it is an effort most suburban communities are realizing as something they have to do," said Vogt, of Vogt Santer Insights. "This is a national trend, and in fact we're probably a little behind other places."

He said multiple surveys show millennials-those born after 1980-want to live in an urban environment, can't afford to buy a home or were scared off from doing so because of the economic calamities of recent years. Good multifamily housing should do well in Dublin, he said.

"Dublin is looked at as really suburban," Vogt said, "and they recognize not everyone wants vanilla."

Another component is the baby boomers and empty nesters who no longer want to take care of a big house or yard. "To have a more sophisticated product fits well," Vogt said.

Crawford echoed the comment, noting that those older than 50 have expressed the most interest in the Bridge Street District development. Historically, he said, the young professionals who work in Dublin end their day by commuting back home to Grandview Heights, the Short North or Downtown Columbus, where the housing choices are more attuned to their lifestyle.

Foegler observed a similar trend within the corporate scene. "It used to be that if you got the CEO to live in Dublin, the company would come to Dublin," he said. "Companies now are following where the workers want to be."

Craig Lovelace is a freelance writer.