After success of Commons at Clark Hall, new construction adds more commercial development along Hamilton Road in Gahanna.

Buoyed by the success of Commons at Clark Hall, Wagenbrenner Development and Courtfield Properties are constructing a second retail center along South Hamilton Road in Gahanna. These two developments join the clusters of small businesses up and down the several miles of Hamilton Road and crossing Morse Road into the Columbus city line.

Shops at Rocky Fork, due to open in mid-2015, has been carved out of 10 properties with construction costs totaling $8.3 million. Its three buildings totaling 26,800 square feet on 3.6 acres will house Arby's, Dunkin Donuts, Tom and Chee, Gigi's Cupcakes, Sports Clips, European Wax Center, and Hibachi Fresh. A TIF, granted last March by the Gahanna City Council, includes expenses for a bike path and sidewalk extension and landscaping improvements.

Up Hamilton Road just north of Granville Street, Commons at Clark Hall, finished three years ago at a cost of $6 million, has as tenants Chipotle Mexican Grill, Rusty Bucket, Panera Bread, AT&T, Smashburger, Gahanna Vision Center, Menchie's Frozen Yogurt, and SuperCuts. Its two buildings provide 22,800 square feet of retail space that have been fully leased since day one.

Greg Gallas of Courtfield Properties says that Commons at Clark Hall "proved that Gahanna was a trade area. We learned that the market was really good for local business." Studies show that daily traffic along Hamilton Road is around 45,500 vehicles. The population of Gahanna currently is just over 33,000. Population in a five-mile radius is just over 156,000.

These successes contrast with the dismal history of Creekside Plaza, a three-building combination of upscale condominiums, retail and office space, and parking garage. Opened in 2008 at a cost of $60 million, it sold in 2012 to Strathmore Development Co. of East Lansing, Michigan for $10.5 million. The size of Creekside Plaza, 54,000 square feet of office space and 41,000 square feet of retail space, seems to outstrip Gahanna's local demand. But in the several years that Strathmore has owned Creekside, it has been able to attract about a dozen new food purveyors and other businesses.

Smaller strip malls fill in the gaps between such older, established malls like Hunters Ridge at South Hamilton and Morrison and Stoneridge Plaza at North Hamilton and Morse. Hunters Ridge has 94,000 square feet of retail space and Stoneridge Plaza has 339,000 square feet of retail space.

Chris Boring of Boulevard Strategies calls Shops at Rocky Fork "a me-too center," noting that it is filled with "emerging food service tenants that want to be in Gahanna." While he considers the neighborhood-sized businesses appropriate to the local traffic, he finds Hamilton Road itself "problematic," with two-lane bottlenecks interrupting its four lanes. "It's becoming over-commercialized," Boring says, "like Sawmill Road. It's going down the same path."

Opportunities for further development along Hamilton Road are becoming fewer, but Lead Building Co. of Dublin and Stonehenge Company have broken ground at 471 N. Hamilton for a 180-unit luxury apartment complex on 8.8 acres. Adam Trautner of Stonehenge says construction costs are $20 million and rentals will start at around $1,000 for apartments ranging from studios to three bedrooms. An unusual feature for each three-story unit is an elevator. Construction is scheduled to be complete by fall.

Nathaniel Vogt, Transportation Improvement Program and Funding Manager of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, says that several projects are planned to widen and improve Hamilton Road. The first, widening South Hamilton between Carpenter and US 62 in Gahanna to five lanes at a cost of $10.2 million, is scheduled to begin in 2016. Another project improving Hamilton from Morse Road north to Chilmark Drive at a cost of $10.6 million will not begin until 2019.

The most ambitious project is to change the jog of Hamilton Road at the intersection of Dublin-Granville Road to a continuous S-curve. "It's been planned for quite a while," Vogt says. Citing a letter of support from Casto to MORPC written last October, Vogt says, "The project is starting to ripen." Albany Park, Casto's projected four-parcel, 385-acre mixed-use development extending on either side of Hamilton and Dublin-Granville Road, remains on hold.

A MORPC project due to start this summer is widening North Hamilton Road from Morse Road to Chilmark Drive. The $8.5 million project is the first step in making North Hamilton four lanes all the way to Dublin-Granville Road.

Any further building along this busy thoroughfare will likely be modest and the remaining available properties are not numerous. Asked if Wagenbrenner and Courtfield Properties have plans for future development along Hamilton, Gallas responds cautiously. "You never know," he says. "Maybe a smaller one."

Dennis Read is a freelance writer.