In a brainstorming exercise, NBBJ Design contemplates future uses of the Dispatch building and its adjacent property.

NBBJ Designcontemplates future uses of the Dispatch buildingand its adjacent property.

If you could change the face of the most significant real estate in Downtown Columbus, how much fun would that be?

A lot, say architects and others at NBBJ Design who spent part of a recent Thursday afternoon envisioning what could become of the iconic Dispatch building and adjacent property owned by the Wolfe family.

In their no-risk brainstorming exercise, 10 NBBJ teams each spent about an hour playing with ideas for future uses of the newspaper headquarters, adjacent parking lots and a vacant bank building that now make up most of the S. Third Street block of Capitol Square. More than 40 potential uses were dreamed up and then modeled with bits of wood, plastic, artificial grass and other materials.

Probably most good architecture and design firms have similar freewheeling sessions to engage staff and have fun doing it. We only learned about this one because it was prompted in part by our October cover story on Downtown development and the potential of the Wolfe family holdings to forever change Capitol Square.

After the free-form design hour, the NBBJ teams discussed and defended their concepts and then a trio of architects and designers whittled and reformed the 10 proposals into a package they believe represents best opportunities for success.

Their favored concept envisions turning the Dispatch building into a boutique hotel and redeveloping the bank into a restaurant and bar. The southern end would be anchored by high-rise residential. In between, two crisscross mid-rises with green roofs would offer office, retail and green space. The overall impression is of new construction gently folding skyward from the existing structures, tying them all together and giving the older buildings new life.

The design exercise is the kind of thing the 120 staff members of NBBJ engage in occasionally, and the firm's bar cart often makes an appearance. It is a way to decompress at the end of a week and do a little team-building at the same time. Even administrative staff and other non-designers join the fun of brainstorming what might become of a particular property without the constraints an actual client relationship would impose-such as costs and tenant requirements.

Questions that the firm likes to continually address are made part of these exercises to underscore their importance-"what ifs" about smart energy and material use and rethinking buildings as labs of positive community interaction.

So what will become of the building the Dispatch called home for decades? The question is more real than I like to admit, now that Columbus CEO prepares to join our Dispatch brethren in a new 62 E. Broad St. home. I have enjoyed being back where my journalism career began. But as new ownership takes us across Capitol Square, we will be among many observers waiting for what could take Downtown Columbus to a new level of urban excitement.

In control of prime acreage directly facing the Statehouse, former Dispatch Publisher John F. Wolfe has acknowledged a high responsibility to develop the property well, and he has indicated he is in the early stages of what could be a long process to get it right.

Wolfe's opportunity comes at a time of unparalleled enthusiasm for Downtown development, and Columbus CEO will continue covering that story.

That enthusiasm helped lure NBBJ back Downtown to 250 High, a mixed-use property it designed. Principal Daniel Ayars says NBBJ hears from clients and consultants alike that many businesses and residents "want to be back in the city." It's why the Dispatch site will continue to draw interest from developers and architects all over Columbus.

And it's why the business community will be anxious to see Mayor Andrew Ginther work to keep the momentum going.

Time will tell if the Dispatch building becomes a hotel. Did I mention the firm's bar cart was in use during the NBBJ exercise?