South Campus Gateway revitalized after rocky launch

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

City and university leaders are calling South Campus Gateway and its surrounding development a success 10 years after joining together to clean up the University District.

"It's been on an upward trajectory," says Amanda Hoffsis, president of Campus Partners for Community Urban Development, a nonprofit affiliate of Ohio State University that worked closely with the city of Columbus to revitalize the South Campus area. "I don't think there's been a time we've seen this much interest in the Gateway since its opening (in 2005)."

After its launch, the South Campus Gateway faced the 2008 recession that saw the loss of over 8.4 million jobs nationally. The Gateway survived, but then faced issues with constant retail turnover, one of its biggest challenges to date. Though that, says Hoffsis, is improving.

"We have proposals on everything but one space," Hoffsis says, citing a 93-percent occupancy rate, including the addition of an 8,000-plus-square-foot Wendy's innovation office, located where Charlie Bear used to be. "There's a very real possibility we'll be full by the end of 2015."

Hoffsis credits key South Campus retailers like Barnes & Noble, Aveda and Panera as the cornerstones of retail development. She adds that World of Beer, a new tenant opening a 4,500-square-foot garden in the summer at 1566 N. High St., will also add to the retail mix. CampusParc relocated its main offices to South Campus, as well.

Plans are being studied for a seven-acre expansion of the Gateway area to the south and east under new zoning Columbus City Council approved late last year, says Kevin Wheeler, Columbus planning administrator. "That's going to be a combination of retail, office and residential," he says, noting initial residential design proposals are under review. "By virtue of how much interest it draws, it continues to be a very important focus for us."

Residential, in particular, is of interest to Hoffsis, as Weinland Park continues to see growth and revitalization.

"Home ownership rates are increasing, crime rates are decreasing-we're seeing a shift," says Hoffsis, emphasizing the growth of single family units in the area. "The neighborhood, as a whole, is improving from a safety perspective and a housing perspective."

The revitalization is ushering in a new type of retail customer in South Campus, as well.

"The changing demographics of our students and the popularity of our film center certainly have led to a change," says Hoffsis.

The Gateway Film Center, run by President Chris Hamel, is the anchor of South Campus Gateway. It has the Torpedo Room bar for snacks and beverages, a new art gallery, plenty of meeting and screening space, and Indie productions as well as mainstream movies on the big screen, all of which make it a hub for food, drinks and entertainment.

"It is without a doubt that the film center is one of the economic drivers of the South Campus Gateway and the University District," says Hamel. "In addition to infusing much-needed foot traffic, we fashion ourselves as the 'town hall' of the area, where people can discuss and debate the diverse variety of topics that cinema brings to life."

The GFC's recent move to nonprofit status is a huge step, said Hamel, who also heads up the Ohio Film Commission. It allows for the film center to apply for grant money to support programming and physical expansion of the GFC. "(It's) an important transition and better clarifies our position as a mission-driven community cinema," says Hamel.

"Many more things are planned in 2015, with special emphasis on partnerships with several of Columbus' legacy arts organizations," says Hamel of the GFC's indie partners, The Wexner Center and Studio 35, as well as education and production opportunities for local filmmakers.

The GFC will offer film school courses beginning in 2015 and more opportunities to see short films. They plan to bring in real-life successes to speak as well. Gordy Hoffman, whose short film "Dog Bowl" was screened at the Sundance Film Festival this year, will offer a class for screenwriters in July.

Hamel is planning a physical expansion as well, with a capital campaign later in 2015 to secure funding to upgrade and improve auditoriums for a better movie-watching experience. The expansion efforts, combined with improved residential space, will usher in a new demographic with different retail needs, says Hoffsis.

"(The GFC's) ability to go after grants will increase their ability to add programming and bring in more folks. We shouldn't assume they will be students," says Hoffsis. "The likelihood that the folks who will be introduced to the Gateway will be a majority of people from outside the area is high.

"The Gateway is seen as the link between the Short North and the University. We're going to close that gap in the next two years," adds Hoffsis. "We feel like it's no longer the southern edge of the University, but a continuum that connects the Short North and the Downtown area."

Building on Gateway's success, plans were announced this spring for redevelopment of nine acres to the north, bringing a boutique hotel and a town center to High St. from 14th to 17th avenues.

Steph Greegor is a freelance writer.