Franklinton rebirth around the bend

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

Franklinton became the beachhead for the city of Columbus in 1797. Today, the neighborhood is quickly passing into the realm of the cool - that hard-to-define combination of funky living, arts enclaves and techie workspaces, a path similar to the Short North and German Village.

The neighborhood has gotten a boost from the Scioto Greenways project, scheduled for completion later this year, plans for a new statewide Ohio Veterans Memorial and Museum, and new green spaces that camouflage parking areas at COSI, the Center of Science and Industry.

"Franklinton looks very promising," says Guy Worley, president and CEO of the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation & Capitol South. CDDC coordinates projects for the Scioto Peninsula, which edges East Franklinton just across the river from downtown. The CDDC has coordinated arduous infrastructure work to restore the Scioto River to its original course, making it narrower, free-flowing and natural.

"There's already a significant amount of organic growth in the area, similar to what was occurring in the Short North 15 years ago. The plan for the Scioto Peninsula will only enhance what is happening organically in Franklinton," Worley says.

New retail, commercial and residential spaces may take five to 10 years, but there's already plenty of excitement in evidence for the Peninsula and Franklinton:

To the south, the Orange Barrel Media headquarters dominates Souder and McKinley avenues, with a massive mural depicting the 1913 Franklinton flood.

Robert Weiler Co. and Casto are redeveloping a former public housing site on the west side of the Scioto opposite Miranova.

The Idea Foundry, a workspace for innovators located on West State Street in the Peninsula, thrives with workshops and industrial innovators.

Knockout Concepts, a specialist in 3-D scanning technology, grew up at the Idea Foundry and moved just around the corner to its own space.

The Glass Axis studio, workshop and gallery complex near the Idea Foundry shows the artistic side of Franklinton.

"I think the work on the riverfront is fantastic, essentially softening the edge between Franklinton and Downtown," says Jim Sweeney, executive director of the Franklinton Development Association. The development association has helped create 120 housing units in the area since 2011.

"Franklinton has had the challenge of natural and psychological boundaries: the Scioto River itself, double-elevated railroad tracks and State Route 315, which split Franklinton east and west. We're working on ways to bridge those gaps in people's minds," Sweeney says.

Landmark restaurants like the Florentine, Spaghetti Warehouse, Tommy's Diner and Phillip's Original Coney Island have continued to lure downtown workers and Franklinton's own blue-collar clientele.

But tragic floods in 1913 and 1959 always clouded the future for the Bottoms, as Franklinton is known, until completion of the Franklinton Floodwall in 2004. Mayor Michael Coleman prioritized Franklinton's redevelopment in 2011, and the stage was set for a long-term comeback.

Nationwide Realty Investors recently acquired the former Byers Chevrolet property on Broad Street in East Franklinton. It will take some time to produce the kind of mixed-use residential, retail and commercial development stakeholders are after; but it's a ringing endorsement from NRI, which helped create the Arena District and establish the mixed-use Grandview Yard.

"There is a broad level of interest (in Franklinton) from investors, large and small," says Brian Ellis, president of NRI. "There's room for entrepreneurial developers and businesses, but there is also some significant interest from larger and more experienced developers as well."

As enthusiasm builds, there's also a need for realism and patience, says Judy Box, chair of the Franklinton Area Commission. She has long experience in urban housing rehabilitation and rentals.

"So many people are anxious to have everything happen yesterday. We'll do well to have it in 10 years," Box says. "Everyone wants the Grandview-type of neighborhood, but in the meantime, everyone has a car to drive to Grandview two miles away."

Trent Smith, executive director of the Franklinton Board of Trade, an association of local business owners, churches and community organizations, feels optimistic.

"A lot of local people were upset about Vets Memorial being torn down like Cooper Stadium was torn down. That was a point of pride," Smith says. "But the new Vets will be a statewide memorial and very beautiful, so folks here are okay with it now."

In the same way, although Mount Carmel West Hospital announced it would move much of its operation to Grove City, there's an upside, says Smith.

"Mount Carmel's nursing education program has grown from 400 to 1,200 students over the last five years. When they move things around, the college gets new room to spread out. That's the hidden gem of that story," Smith says.

Mike Mahoney is a freelance writer.