Downtown upgrade

By Editorial | 10 Apr, 2012

Columbus Commons, riverfront projects will add sparkle to city

With Mayor Michael B. Coleman determined to see the Downtown riverfront transformed and a major developer ready to invest $50 million in apartments and shops next to Columbus Commons, those who envision an ever-better Downtown have had a banner week of good news.
 
Removing the Main Street dam on the Scioto River, leaving behind a narrower, more-natural stream and exposing 33 additional acres of riverfront parkland, was the centerpiece of a 2010 Downtown-improvement plan. It was viewed as long-range hope, but on the heels of a study showing it would be feasible, Coleman kick-started the effort on Tuesday by pledging $18 million in city money toward the $35 million project.  
 
Thursday, Downtown momentum took another quantum leap, with the announcement that the Atlanta-based Carter development company wants to buy two acres of Columbus Commons land along S. High Street and by August, start building two six-story apartment buildings with 300 units, plus 23,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space.
 
When plans for Columbus Commons were announced in 2009, Capitol South Community Urban Redevelopment Corp. and city officials said the swaths of green along High Street and S. 3rd Street were to be filled with apartments, shops, restaurants and offices eventually, but didn’t predict anything sooner than five years hence.
 
Carter’s emergence this soon, from among several developers interested in the site, is an encouraging indication that the market will justify the investment that taxpayers and corporate donors have made in a vibrant and beautiful Downtown. The numbers are   indeed strong: Downtown apartments are 95 percent occupied, the best rate in 15 years, and demand by empty-nesters and young professionals for luxury units is greater than current supply.
 
While more people make plans to live Downtown, plans to free up Columbus’ rivers promise better recreation spaces, enhanced safety and a healthier natural environment.

The Main Street dam as well as the 5th Avenue dam on the Olentangy River have outlived any useful purpose and now serve mainly to create smelly, stagnant pools and drowning hazards.  
 
So-called lowhead dams don’t necessarily look like a threat, but the churning waters at the base have been described as “drowning machines,” because they trap swimmers, waders and boaters. In June 2008, a kayaker had to be rescued from the base of the Greenlawn dam south of Downtown, just weeks after a man on an inner-tube raft drowned after going over the 5th Avenue dam and becoming trapped.
 
State money will help the city cover the $5.5 million cost of removing the 5th Avenue dam and restoring the river channel between the dam’s current spot and Lane Avenue. Allowing the river to revert to a narrower, natural channel will open up space for a broad riverfront park.  
 
For the much-bigger Main Street dam project, Coleman has charged the Columbus Downtown Development Corp. with making it happen by the end of 2015.
 
The result will be a transformed riverfront. Along with exposing park land, removing the dam will speed its flow and reduce the smell of the river in its current, stagnant state — a flaw that detracts from the Scioto Mile improvements completed last year.
 
Coleman is right to call the dam removal a “city-changing” proposition.