Downtown Columbus is flush with new parks and upscale housing, but those who call the center city home want the city to do more about neglected, vacant buildings and attract more shopping opportunities.
Those remain the last holes in the fabric of what has become a full-fledged residential neighborhood, business hub and government center.
But what a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago, about 3,800 people lived Downtown. Today, more than 6,300 call it home.
One of the recent pioneers was Diane Hunter, who moved Downtown nine years ago from Bowling Green.
Hunter, 79, looked at houses in Columbus’ suburbs, where her two daughters live, but when she visited Waterford Tower and saw the LeVeque Tower in the distance, she was sold.
“I wanted a view,” she said.
That view has been enhanced, in part, thanks to the Downtown Residents Association of Columbus, which celebrates its 10th anniversary tonight with a party at the Renaissance Columbus Downtown on N. 3rd Street.
The group, which started as a social and civic organization, is becoming more of an advocacy group pushing issues important to residents, said Kevin Wood, the group’s former president and one of its founders.
What makes Downtown unique is that it isn’t really one neighborhood.
For example, issues that affect the area along Town Street are completely different from those in Capitol Square or the Arena District.
Susan Ungar, the current leader of the Downtown residents group, said her grandfather owned a store near Broad and High streets when she was growing up.
She lived in Bexley but dreamed of living Downtown some day. In 2006, she moved to her N. High Street condominium.
“I loved the vitality and future vitality of what would be happening. We walk everywhere and ride our bicycles,” she said.
While Downtown continues to grow, history shows that it did a lot of shrinking over the years. In 1950, nearly 30,000 lived there.
Developers know there is more interest.
As of the end of June, 785 housing units were being built Downtown — $88.9 million in construction. An additional 652 units — $68.6 million in construction — has been proposed, according to the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District.
It’s tough to get into some complexes. The 219-unit Annex at RiverSouth is all leased. And the HighPoint at Columbus Commons Apartments are leasing ahead of schedule, said Todd Schiff, vice president of the Weiler Co., a partner in the 302-unit development scheduled to open in October.
Dan Stover, vice president of the Downtown residents’ group, said his organization will evolve with Downtown and participate in its growth.
For example, the group has been involved in restoring two historic clocks, a $57,000 project. They should be reinstalled in October, one at N. High Street and Lynn Alley, and the other at 21 E. Gay St.
“As young professionals come into a lot of the new developments, it places a lot of demands on the city and business community to keep up,” he said, specifically citing the needs for more restaurants and retail.
Ten years ago, residents said a grocery store topped their list of needs. The Hills Market opened on N. Grant Avenue in March.
Store spokeswoman Kelly Holmes said she hopes business will continue to build once the Edwards Companies finishes the 260-unit apartment complex it is developing along E. Long Street.
Kacey Brankamp, retail recruiter for the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District, said that while retail follows rooftops, there remains a lack of affordable space that is clustered and ready to lease.
“The interest is there. It’s just having the space,” Brankamp said.
Wood, who has lived in his N. 3rd Street condominium for nine years, said he thinks the growing number of residents will drive the demand for more stores.
“I certainly miss having (City Center),” Wood said, adding that the city did well in replacing the mall with Columbus Commons.
Those who live Downtown say they are excited by the changes and can’t wait for more.
Hunter said she walks every day up to Gay Street, buying brownies or nuts or other items.
“I feel safe at night. I didn’t before. I was careful,” she said. “Now there are people every place.”