In some cultures, cranes are a good omen. It’s said the regal, long-necked birds are symbols of longevity, good fortune and success.
Want to know what’s in store for Columbus’ Downtown area?
Look for the cranes — the mechanical ones.
Crawler cranes, tower cranes, articulating boom cranes migrate like mammoth metallic birds, popping up in the sky whenever an area is deemed “promising,” “up-and-coming” or “full of potential.”
“I think right now we can be coined the ‘Crane City,’” said Guy Worley, president and CEO of the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation.
When the nonprofit development organization was formed in 2002, it had a lofty goal: to make Columbus one of the most-attractive center cities in the country.
“I think if you go back 10, 15 years, we were a downtown with a lot of dreams,” said Worley. “We had a lot of energy, but we had little action.”
Now, Worley said, that action is happening.
Josh Corna, president of Corna Kokosing, has witnessed Columbus grow and evolve in his 22 years with the central-Ohio-based construction company. But the amount of Downtown-area development he’s seeing now is unprecedented.
“It’s unlike any other time I’ve seen before,” said Corna. “It’s much more and much bigger than I’ve ever seen in my career.”
Corna’s company has been behind many of the city’s most-visible construction projects: the transformation of the former City Center mall to John F. Wolfe Columbus Commons, the renovations to the Greater Columbus Convention Center and, now, the development of the Scioto Peninsula.
Construction at the Convention Center is wrapping up soon, Corna said, and concrete is flowing at the site of the two-level, 620-space Scioto Peninsula parking garage. The underground garage, capped off by an eight-acre community park, will replace the surface lots in front of COSI.
Development on surface lots is one of the most-exciting prospects in urban development, said Marc Conte, the deputy director of research planning and facilities for the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District.
That kind of development is poised to continue, too, he said. Urban growth works like anything else that grows naturally — expanding into every open space. When lateral space runs out, there’s only one direction to go.
“Where there used to be a lot of surface lots Downtown, those are going to start to become buildings,” said Corna. “And I think some of those are going to be taller than we’ve seen.”
When it comes to new construction projects, Columbus developers have a buzz phrase: mixed-use.
Mixed-use developments combine residential, commercial and cultural functions. They fit the “live, work, play” mentality that’s been driving urban construction not just in Columbus but in urban areas nationwide.
The biggest mixed-use development in the works right now is a 22-acre area on the Scioto Peninsula — the largest new development in the city in decades, Worley said. Over a 10-year build-out period, the development is expected to include around 1,500 residential units, two hotels, 800,000 square feet of office space and a variety of retail, dining and entertainment options.
Right now, the “live” and “work” components of Columbus’ equation are in high demand, with most residential developments and office space occupied, Worley said.
Of the major Downtown-area construction projects completed in 2016, 34 percent were residential and 8 percent were mixed-use developments. Of the projects still under construction by the end of last year, 23 percent were residential and 29 percent were mixed-use, according to Capital Crossroads’ year-end report.
Only seven percent of the projects under construction and 16 percent of completed projects were for parking, which isn’t profitable right now amid plans for public transportation expansion and autonomous vehicles, Conte said.
As more people visit, work and live Downtown, city leaders are looking at more paths for bicyclists and pedestrians and easier access to public transportation.
People will need to embrace these urban ways of moving around the city even more than they do now, said Conte.
“There has to be a mindset shift among people that come Downtown,” he said.
People who work and live in Columbus don’t care just about locations and costs anymore, said Amy Taylor, chief operating officer for the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation.
Appearance is important, too.
“One of the things we’re seeing is that our patrons — whether they are renters or owners or people working there — want high-quality finishes and interesting architecture,” said Taylor.
Columbus’ construction boom began in the mid-2000s with the development of the Arena District, Worley said, and really started to come to a head with the Columbus Commons and Scioto Mile Riverfront projects.
But development and construction leaders like Worley and Corna don’t think things will be slowing down anytime soon. The cranes are here to stay.
So where will they be migrating next?
“You know that old saying ‘look west?’” said Worley. “Well, our future is on the western side of the Scioto River.”
Construction is in progress on the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, and COSI is undergoing changes to accommodate a new partnership with New York City’s American Museum of Natural History. Two satellite exhibits, including the American Museum of Natural History Dinosaur Gallery, are being installed in the southern half of the science museum and research center.
Recently, crawler cranes can be seen in their natural habitat right outside of the museum, with loads rising above the construction site, giving us a sign of good things to come.