Business Outlook 2011: Columbus Commons

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

City Center is dead. Long live Columbus Commons.

A year after pulling the plug on the failed mall, the Columbus Downtown Development Corp./Capitol South Community Urban Redevelopment Corp. has given life to a new development on the nine-acre parcel at High and Town streets. The site where City Center had stood since 1989 is being transformed into an urban park that will draw everyone from visiting out-of-towners to brown-bagging Downtown workers, says Guy Worley, president and CEO of CDDC/Capitol South.

Demolition began in October 2009. By this October, all traces of the once-bustling retail behemoth were gone, and workers were planting grass and trees. "We'll open the park in a grand way late next spring, as you don't do seasonal plantings and that sort of thing in the wintertime," says Worley. The scheduled completion date is set for late May.

Unlike City Center-which was ultimately criticized for closing out the street life around it-Columbus Commons is intended to embrace its Downtown surroundings. "We're trying to build this park for everyone-Downtown residents, Downtown employees, young professionals, families from all over the region," says Worley. Modeled after New York City's Bryant Park, the site will have a lawn at its center, a grove of trees at its south end, a café and a reading room with materials for children and adults. A vendor will be tapped to run the café, and the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts (CAPA) has been tasked with programming entertainment for the site.

The park also will have a $325,000 hand-carved wooden merry-go-round. The carousel garnered the attention of Franklin County commissioners in late July when that part of the plan was unveiled. (The county is kicking in $3 million of the park project's $20 million price tag. Franklin County Metro Parks is providing $2 million in construction funding; the remaining $15 million is being provided by private sources.) Worley says no tax dollars will be used for the carousel and that private funds were allocated to pay for it.

The nonprofit Cap South is still finalizing projections for the cost to maintain and operate the park; part of the tab will include security to make park-goers feel safe. The security plan is a multifaceted approach that includes the design of the park itself (flat and well-lighted), the use of private security already serving Cap South's parking garages, Capitol Crossroads Special Improvement District ambassadors patrolling the streets, and a safety-in-numbers philosophy. "Honestly, the thing that makes people feel safe is other people. That's part of the point of having programming," says Amy Edwards Taylor, Cap South's chief operating officer.

Cap South officials hope to gain some synergy when the city of Columbus opens the $44 million Scioto Mile-another public-private park project-in early July. "So we'll have two really great amenities Downtown that will be opening in a very short period of time," Worley says.

More attractions should bring more visitors to both parks, says Taylor. "People are not going to come down to just use a carousel. But the carousel could be an element of what they're going to do. They could see a show on an outdoor stage, they could play kickball, they could go to the reading room, they could get something to eat at the café. The more things we pack in an area, the more likely that we're going to have something for the family or individual who wants to come down. The two parks are really different-and they're going to have a different feel-and so I think you're going to go to Scioto Mile and still want to go to Columbus Commons, because there are different activities there."

Plans call for Columbus Commons to eventually have a smaller, six-acre park surrounded by new, mixed-use development. The project's second and third phases include street-level retail along High Street (with residential units on the top floors), as well as office space where Macy's once stood. Ultimately, Cap South expects 400 residential units, 435,000 square feet of office and 70,000 square feet of retail to be developed on the site. "But that all will be done as the economy improves and the market demands that type of space in the Downtown environment," Worley says.

Reprinted from the December 2010 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.