In 2018, when Nationwide decided to turn the building that had operated as a movie theater for nearly two decades into an innovation center, the goal was to create a purpose-built space that would foster a collaborative work environment.

To do so, the dark, closed-off theater spaces would have to be opened up to allow for modern office design, natural lighting and visual connectivity.

After more than a year of planning, design and build-out, the CoOperative opened at 175 W. Nationwide Blvd. in November. Former movie-goers who frequented the old Arena Grand Theatre and, later, the Studio Movie Grill wouldn’t recognize the building as it stands today. 

The old ticket booth now is a lobby/sunroom with towering windows that provide views of the Arena District.  The former concession area now is a town hall gathering space with open views to the second and third stories. The old lower-level theaters now are “neighborhoods” outfitted with a variety of flexible workspaces, including floating team rooms that can be reconfigured to accommodate a variety of work styles, furniture configurations and different number of guests. Former closed corridors now offer open mezzanine views and sightlines into the neighborhoods and town square below. Stay up to date with the region’s movers and shakers, top employers, philanthropic causes, real estate developments and thriving creative and startup scenes. Subscribe to Columbus CEO’s weekly newsletter.

Scott Liles, innovation project lead for Nationwide, says the transformation with the town square anchoring the neighborhoods was meant to spur “constructive collisions” among workers.

“The space was meant to be multi-functional and not constrain how people work,” Liles says. On a recent tour he pointed out two employees gathered around a laptop at a high-top table in a communal area, a place they had intentionally moved to get away from their desks. 

Nationwide’s corporate real estate office worked with Nationwide Realty Investors and the Columbus Architectural Studio on the project. Continental Office supplied the furniture. 

The CoOperative's architectural features pay homage to Nationwide's farming community roots. A large tree sculpture in the sunroom is meant to be a beacon that draws people into the building and remind them that it is a “creative greenhouse,” according to Nationwide. “Like trees, this space is a place where seeds get planted, people and ideas cultivated and grown into innovations and innovators.” In fact, there are 18 different tree designs scattered throughout the 47,000-square-foot space.

The free-standing team rooms were designed as modern-day farmhouses. The ceiling looks like a farmhouse roof, yet is inverted to make it modern. The overhang along the wall is reminiscent of the roof of a sunporch, inviting associates to expand the workspace beyond four walls. 

According to the Columbus Architectural Studio, because of the high volume of space left over from the theater, 685 yards of acoustic paneling products were integrated to balance out noise levels. In another nod to the agricultural theme, some of those sound absorbers hang from the ceiling and look like floating lily pads.

Sustainability was incorporated into the renovation in several ways. All of the lower wall surfaces in the east and west neighborhoods were turned into productive structures by making them whiteboards. In fact, there is 7,300 square feet of whiteboard space throughout the building. And the carpet that looks like grass and moss was supplied by one of the few carpet manufacturers to reach zero emissions. 

Nationwide did choose to keep one of the original theaters on the second floor intact. While the old theater seating was removed and flooring replaced, it exists just as it did back when movie goers flocked there to see The Lord of the Rings, The DaVinci Code and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. 

While the CoOperative initially will be used by about 140 Nationwide associates, the goal is for the space to engage the community and host events that attract innovators from all over the country and the world to Columbus.

Laura Newpoff is a freelance writer.