I’ve mentioned before that Gay Street, where I’ve worked for 30 years, is the coolest street in downtown Columbus. I’m happy to say that this Columbus Underground article agrees with me, and provides some useful information about the additional development efforts that are underway, and being planned, for our little part of the downtown area.
Why has Gay Street become a destination street, and home to hotels, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and interesting retail ventures? I think there are a lot of reasons, but two in particular stand out.
First, Gay Street managed to avoid the urban renewal meat axe that turned a lot of downtown Columbus into a kind of surface parking lot desert. Our block of Gay Street, between High and Third, is filled with three-, four-, and five-story buildings, most of which were built in the early 1900s. The buildings are small enough that they could be bought and rehabbed, one by one, by individuals or small firms — and that is exactly what has happened. In short, Gay Street is an example of what small-bore capitalism can accomplish. And the different looks and styles of the buildings also give the street a lot of charm and make eating at a sidewalk table at Due Amici or the Tip Top a fun experience.
Second, it helps when a street has a kind of reliable anchor tenant whose employees will help to fill the restaurants and coffee bars and make them successful. The Vorys firm has been that anchor tenant. We stuck with Gay Street in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when the street hit a low point and there wasn’t much going on, and now our lawyers are regular patrons of Cafe Brioso or the Plantain Cafe — to say nothing of the guys who are known, by name and standard order, at the Subway across the street. When you’ve got a business with hundreds of employees looking every day for a lunch spot, or a place to have a beer after work, it helps to make the capitalist engine hum.
There are other contributors, of course. As the CU article notes, changing Gay Street from a one-way to a two-way street definitely helped to give the street a more relaxed feel, and the City of Columbus has allowed the restaurants to set up sidewalk eating areas that not only increase the numbers of tables they can serve but also add a bustling, cosmopolitan element. And some big developers have helped, too, by filling the blocks to the east with condominiums that have brought more permanent residents to the Gay Street mix.
It’s been great to see the change on Gay Street over the past 30 years, and to watch the developments occurring to the east and now to the west of our block. With the long-vacant Madison’s building now being redeveloped, and the surface lot at Gay and High about to be filled in with a mixed-use building, there will be more changes to come. I can’t wait to see where Gay Street is heading.