Developers flesh out Dublin's transformative vision.

Developers flesh out Dublin's transformative vision.

The city of Dublin led the fast-paced growth of greater Columbus for nearly 30 years as the I-270 Outerbelt fertilized a bumper crop of high-end homes, golf courses and corporate offices. It became a mecca of suburban living admired and envied in the region and the state, setting the standard for comfortable living.

But the community during the last seven years began planning for the next phase of its growth as the attractiveness of living, working and entertaining in Downtown Columbus and other urban neighborhoods rose among young professionals and even empty nesters.

The Bridge Street district vision planning that started in 2009 seeks to redevelop properties from the OCLC campus near the Route 161 (Bridge Street)/Frantz Road intersection eastward through the downtown and over the Scioto River to the Dublin Village Center retail complex at Sawmill and Tuller roads.

"It was about remaining competitive into the future," says Terry Foegler, the city's former city manager who has served as Dublin's director of strategic initiatives and special projects for the last four years. "That (younger) labor force is looking for a more urban, mixed-use, dense and walkable environment." He cites Downtown Columbus' Arena District, the rising Grandview Yard redevelopment project and the Short North as alternative neighborhoods vying for the same workers.

The effort builds on Dublin's charming historic district which had already gained popularity for its boutique shops and tony restaurants. Dublin-based Crawford Hoying Development Partners has started building 15,000 square feet of restaurant/retail space and 15,000 square feet of office space near the base of a 41-unit condo tower along the Scioto River at 94 and 100 N. High St.

Residents are expected in the first apartments in October, about the same time the first office space gets delivered, with Crawford Hoying Development Partners taking part of the fifth floor.

But it's across the Scioto where the developer has started construction on the bulk of its $300 million Bridge Park investment. That mixed-use project on the site of the former Bridge Pointe retail center, Digger & Finch pub and Bash Driving Range will offer 2.5 million square feet of multifamily housing, restaurants, retail and grocery space. It also will have a 150-key AC Hotel by Marriott and community conference center. "We wanted to deliver to Dublin something the city hadn't seen before," developer Brent Crawford says. All told, the developer expects to invest a combined $300 million.

Expanding the development onto the part of the driving range the city didn't need for the relocation of Riverside Drive and a public park along the Scioto proved key to getting the east bank project right-sized. "It would have been much more residential," Crawford says. The larger site "allows us to get all the pieces and parts we wouldn't have been able to get on the (retail center) piece."

Foegler, who had led Campus Partners' efforts to develop the South Campus Gateway redevelopment project in the early 2000s, says the city had long sought to build a riverfront park along the east bank of the Scioto north of Route 161. "Once Bridge Street as an idea gained traction, I suggested that the city look at the river corridor as a priority," he says. "That's what got Crawford Hoying interested in private investment and they began assembling property."

Bridge Park is not the only project under construction. Casto Communities has started on the first $45 million, 420-unit phase of Tuller Flats apartments on a portion of the shuttered Byers Dublin Chevrolet on the western edge of the Dublin Village Center and nearby fields. "We were looking for quality sites in Dublin at the time Bridge Street planning was in the works," says Bill Riat, the Casto partner who leads the developer's residential development division. "They're trying to create a lot of activity, a nice vibe."

Riat says the apartment community-set to receive its first residents as early as this fall-will feature new streets and "an old-fashioned neighborhood park" in front of the Tuller Flats clubhouse. A new city thoroughfare called John Shields Parkway and bike paths will connect the apartment community to Bridge Park and the riverside park. Riat can't predict how quickly a second phase might get built. "The 420 apartments are a lot to start," Riat says. "We want to be cautious."

The prospect of the Bridge Street redevelopment effort already has helped spur revival of the Dublin Village Center, where AMC Theatres revamped its 18-screen cinema three years ago. Upscale furniture retailer Frontgate opened a year ago in the long-shuttered space of arts and crafts retailer Michaels. More recently, the Big Sandy Superstore, seller of electronics, appliances and furniture, has targeted a May opening in the former BJ's Wholesale Club immediately next door to Dublin Village Center.

While the planning effort involved 1,100 acres, Foegler concedes the number of redevelopment sites remain limited. "There aren't a lot of development sites," he says. "But there's a tremendous amount of development activity contemplated as a result of the Bridge Street vision." He tallies at least a half a billion dollars in the private pipeline.

The next major redevelopment project along the Bridge Street corridor is slated for seven acres west of downtown and was acquired by Westerville-based land developer Scott Walker and undisclosed out-of-town investors in December and late February for a combined $4 million.

Walker, who also owns custom builder Olympus Homes, says the site of the Sunoco gas station and surrounding parcels will get developed with a mix of retail and perhaps other commercial uses along Bridge Street with residential projects behind. "We don't really have a plan yet," Walker says. "That's a pretty good piece of ground to have. You have very good (income) demographics; that's where it starts." A plan should emerge later this year.

Some supportive projects are also nearing completion while others will get underway later this year. The city and the Columbus Metropolitan Library are working toward a land swap that will allow for a revised street grid and structured parking as plans advance to build an expanded library not far from the Bridge Park West project. The city expects a giant roundabout at the Riverside intersection at Bridge Street/Route 161 to open this fall. The city also plans a pedestrian bridge to connect the North High redevelopment efforts to the park on the east bank of the Scioto.

Foegler expects the pace of development to pick up as Bridge Park moves toward its first openings in 2017 and Tuller Flats initiates a wave of new residents. "We're starting to attract the critical mass of uses," he says, "that will further enhance the walkability of the Dublin's core."

Brian Ball is a freelance writer.