Vibrant downtowns help shake off Rust Belt label and legacy
Thanks to billions in investment and years of work by both the public and private sectors, Ohio’s three largest cities each are seeing a Downtown renaissance that is bringing new vitality to the urban core, with benefits that ripple throughout the cities.
The “Three Cs” — Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus — collectively have invested some $10 billion in Downtown development. The effect is “an overnight sensation 30 years in the making,” in the words of Edward Hill, dean of Cleveland State University’s Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs.
Each city now has strong demand for Downtown housing from those who want to be close to entertainment and leisure options; the new residents in turn attract more local restaurants and retailers. Office vacancies also have begun to decline. In some cases, major new office buildings are being built for the first time in years. In Cincinnati, ground was just broken on a new mixed-use, $100 million development on a long-vacant site in the heart of the Queen City’s downtown that was once planned to be used for a Nordstrom’s department store.
Columbus, like its other big-city Ohio counterparts, has seen its share of advances and setbacks. Those who always have lived in a city may not see the big picture of how far Downtown has come over time, despite the fast-changing nature of development and retail.
While those with fond memories of shopping at the Columbus City Center mall during its 1990s heyday may miss having an enclosed mall in Downtown, its replacement — Columbus Commons park — is widely recognized as a success and is attracting new housing and retail development to the area. Meanwhile, Columbus has more shopping options than ever, with the development of new retail around the city.
When employed strategically to leverage private money, public investment in downtown areas benefits not just the urban core, but the entire metropolitan area.
A city with a vibrant downtown is more attractive as a place to live, work and visit; that, in turn, brings in new tax revenue and stokes further private investment.
Each city is stepping up efforts to boost tourism and meeting business, which supports thousands of jobs and brings millions of dollars in annual visitor spending. Meeting planners are “looking for cities that have vibrant things to do at night, places people can walk to, and all three cities have this now...it’s a huge benefit,” said Pat Barker, interim director of Ohio’s tourism division, in an interview with The Dispatch.
And as word gets out to visitors, a city such as Columbus, which long has struggled with a lack of national “brand recognition,” develops a greater reputation as a city on the move, rather than a Rust Belt town that’s not attractive to businesses and skilled young workers.
“Instead of losing these young professionals to Chicago and the West Coast and East Coast, they’l l stay here if we have something vibrant going on,” said Mark Patton, managing director of JobsOhio, calling downtown development around the state “part of our long-term planning.”