Downtown Concierge

Downtown Matters: Alley Improvements Promote Retail


Downtown Matters Newsletter


Downtown Columbus

Pearl Market Upgrades webAs our downtown continues to morph from a 9-5 work zone to a vibrant mix of business, housing, retail, dining and culture, the hidden alleyways of Pearl and Lynn feed this transformation.
Long loved for the Pearl Market and a variety of popular restaurants, Pearl Alley and Lynn Alley are in line for some changes, some aesthetic and some that run deeper.

Capital Crossroads SID has partnered with the City of Columbus to develop plans for new streetscaping, lighting, signage and more all designed to encourage retail development of the area. The plans were created by local urban design firm MKSK in collaboration with local artist Malcolm Cochran.

Plans call for aesthetic improvement to the area that will create a colorful and playful environment, but retain the grittiness of the alleys. These include overhead lighting along Lynn Alley, a long plastic hedge row along Pearl Alley, the installation of a small permanent stage for events, and a bollard system along both alleys that will hold flowers. The plans also include the installation of a lighted Pearl Market sign at Lynn and High streets to help brand the area and draw in traffic.

For a number of years, Capital Crossroads has worked diligently to improve the retail environment downtown. While there are a variety of obstacles to successful downtown retail, certain pockets such as Gay Street have thrived (see our companion piece on retail clusters downtown). These pockets combined with the great success of Pearl Market each May through October demonstrate that retail can indeed succeed downtown.

“We know that there is a lot of unmet demand for retail in the downtown area,” said Cleve Ricksecker, Executive Director of Capital Crossroads SID.” The trick is to help businesses find appropriate retail space.”

With so much empty retail space downtown, how can it be hard for retailers to find appropriate space? Much of the unused space is too large or isolated for the smaller independent retailers drawn to the area.

The goal of the Pearl and Lynn alley improvements is to encourage development of small-scale retail space. The plans envision re-configuring buildings that line the alleys between Gay and Broad streets and between High and Third streets to house as many as 45 small retail stores and restaurants. The improvements will combine temporary and permanent retail space to create a Pearl Market-like retail environment year-round.

Capital Crossroads is talking with building owners in the area about re-purposing buildings to allow for punch outs of small retail bays along the alley. The result will be clusters of retail spaces as small as 200 square feet.

“One of the exciting things about Pearl Market is the ability of entrepreneurs to test the downtown market,” explained Ricksecker. “But upon finding a market for their wares, most are unable to find a good brick and mortal location they can afford. Small retail bays in the alleys can be clustered and offered for very affordable prices.”

The full proposal now awaits approval from property owners in the area and a number of City and State departments. According to Ricksecker, “The response to the plans has been positive, but there are a number of legal issues to resolve, and we need to reassure public agencies that the improvements won’t create any hazards.”

The goal is to have the project started in the summer of 2013 and completed that fall.