Downtown Concierge

Editorial: The other half is on its way


In the Media


The Columbus Dispatch

Central Ohio residents are about to witness history: They will get to see the other half of a downtown of a major American city being built within the span of a decade.

Those in town since the days of Mayor M.E. Sensenbrenner, when the LeVeque Tower dominated a low-slung skyline, might have a sense of the change coming. 

But this time, things will be looking up — way up high — on the west side of the river, where two 30-story residential towers are envisioned. Barren lots — largely owned by government, making development possible on such a huge scale — are to become a vibrant East Franklinton neighborhood with homes, shops, restaurants and a boutique hotel or two.

The nonprofit Columbus Downtown Development Corp. took the first step last week, asking developers to provide qualifications for the project. Plans are to select a developer or a team this fall, break ground in 2018 and finish the build-out within 10 years.

“This would be one of the biggest developments in the history of the city of Columbus,” said Guy Worley, the group’s president and CEO.

Worley’s group, best known in leadership circles by its initials, CDDC, is in charge of overseeing most of the work of re-imagining the Scioto Peninsula, already home to COSI Columbus and the emerging National Veterans Memorial & Museum. CDDC can turn its attention to this new project because its work on the east side of the river has succeeded beyond expectations: The old Lazarus building has been rehabbed. A dead City Center Mall was razed and replaced with Columbus Commons, a park that served as a sparkplug for development of high-rise apartments, condos, offices and restaurants. Demand is high for urban space.

“Downtown housing is 100 percent occupied. Downtown (Class A) office space is 91 percent occupied,” Worley said.

Add to this that Franklinton already has cultural amenities. The science museum is partnering with the American Museum of Natural History to add a dinosaur exhibit. The new Veterans Memorial is expected to become a national attraction. And the West Side has a stunning view of Downtown and offers quick access to the Scioto Mile riverfront.

No wonder CDDC is thinking big — a 21-acre new neighborhood that will extend Downtown across the Scioto River.

The idea of 30-story residential towers is a bold one; the Miranova complex, completed in 2000, features a 27-story luxury condo tower and a 12-story office building. Franklinton, already up and coming, will be transformed.

The challenge in the coming years will be the same one as faced by German Village, the Short North, Olde Towne and other historic neighborhoods: How to retain a neighborhood’s organic personality and its older and diverse mix of residents as development — and likely, gentrification — occurs.

This will require developers to ensure that the new streets and buildings don’t turn their back on the rest of Franklinton, a creative and historic neighborhood in contrast to the Park Avenue vibe of the early conceptual renderings.

These concerns will have to be addressed, because development is coming to Franklinton regardless. A quarter century ago, Columbus Auditor Hugh Dorrian gazed out of his west-facing City Hall window and pointed across the river: “That’s the other side of Downtown; it’s just not built yet,” he said, presciently. He came to city government in 1965, as the modern Downtown was being built. As he retires, he will see the beginning of its completion.