Up Next for Capitol South

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

You’d think that with the 2011 openings of Columbus Commons and the Scioto Mile, folks at Capitol South Community Urban Redevelopment Corp. and the Columbus Downtown Development Corp. would be ready to take a break. Think again.

The advent of those two major civic projects has led the organization to dabble in the programming and operations business rather than remain a development darling.

It’s been a whirlwind couple of years for Capitol South/CDDC. “The goal was to get the Scioto Mile open in time for 2012 [the city’s bicentennial], and that happened on July 7 and it has been a huge success,” says Amy Edwards Taylor, the organization’s operating officer. The park was turned over to the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, and nearly a half-million people have visited.

Similarly, since the end of May an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 people have come to Columbus Commons, which Cap South continues to program and operate. That’s “a little different for our organization,” Taylor says. “A lot of times we build, and that’s been our role: We’ve been a developer. And now, I think our role is evolving.”

In 2011, the Columbus Commons staff “threw a lot of spaghetti at the wall with programming to see what worked and what didn’t,” says Taylor. As a result, 2012 will see expanded programming for families, additional exercise classes and more food truck events.

Also coming in 2012 is a $5 million pavilion at the park’s north end, atop the underground parking garage. The Columbus Bicentennial Pavilion, funded by the city ($2 million) and private donors ($3 million), will feature year-round LCD screens to project live shows or advertise upcoming events. The pavilion “will allow us to bring in national acts, that’s certainly our goal,” Taylor says. It’ll host popular local acts, too: The Columbus Symphony Orchestra will perform its Picnic with the Pops series at the site.

While planning workout classes and live shows might seem a far cry from Capitol South’s past responsibilities—building and operating parking garages (it owns two and manages two more for the city) and City Center mall, renovating the former Lazarus store into green office space and working with Lifestyle Communities to bring residential units to the RiverSouth District—Taylor says the activities are in keeping with the nonprofits’ missions. Capitol South was formed in 1974 to redevelop the area south of Capitol Square; the CDDC was created in 2002 to implement the Downtown Strategic Plan. The organizations have since joined forces, sharing a staff and board of directors

“So, yes, our lines of business are changing, and we’re now in the park programming/operations business, but the goal is still the same. The goal of the organization has always been to bring people Downtown. And whether that’s by creating the Lazarus building, so it’s not a boarded-up building, and transforming it into an office building, or whether it’s taking an underutilized mall and making it into an active green space and a place people can enjoy, either way, they’re different strategies, but the same goal,” says Taylor.

Of course, the park of today is not the Columbus Commons the city may see five or 10 years from now. Capitol South envisions the final product as a six-acre site with a grand lawn in the middle, surrounded by four development sites—three residential areas along High Street and a commercial strip at Rich and Town streets. The nonprofit is “testing the waters, seeing if there’s an interest” in residential development, Taylor says.

Also on the agenda for Capitol South/CDDC: working toward a fix for the Scioto River as it flows through Downtown. The theory is that the river is artificially wide and shallow at least in part because of a dam at Main Street, Taylor says. A feasibility study, due in January, will address whether dam removal is possible and how it could impact the river and its water quality. Supporters say taking out the dam could open the Scioto to recreational use and psychologically draw it closer to COSI, on the river’s west bank.

“Those are the two projects that we’ll be looking at as we go into 2012, and then I think that there’s the continued evolution of the organization, which is going from a fairly pure planning, analysis, development organization to, continuing to do those, but adding an operations piece,” Taylor says.

Reprinted from the January 2012 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © 2012 Columbus C.E.O.