Walking around downtown this week, I was glad to see another site where guys in hard hats were hard at work. This one was at Gay and High, where construction workers are ripping up a dismal surface parking lot and getting ready to begin building another multi-story, mixed use, retail/office/residential building.
The Gay Street site joins a slew of other downtown Columbus building sites, which can be found on lots next to the police headquarters, at the Convention Center, and across from the Columbus Commons on High Street, and ongoing rehab work on the long-empty buildings on the other side of the intersection of Gay and High. All told, the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District, which covers the downtown area, estimates that about $500 million of construction work is underway and another $1.2 billion is in the pipeline.
This is good news for a lot of reasons. Downtown Columbus is in the process of reinventing itself, transitioning from a purely commercial zone of buildings and parking lots where there was no activity whatsoever after 7 p.m. to an area where people live and work and certain neighborhoods, like Gay Street, are developing their own distinctive, 24-hour-a-day vibe. The Capital Crossroad District estimates that the number of people who live downtown has doubled since 2004 and now stands at about 8,000. That’s not a huge number, but the trend lines are obvious and the change in atmosphere in the downtown area is obvious, too. It’s gone from a silent, empty place in the non-business hours to a place where people walk their dogs, jog, and have a hearty brunch on Sunday morning.
The construction boom is good for downtown and for construction workers, of course, but it’s also good for the entire central Ohio area. I’d like to see the outward suburban creep end, and the focus instead be on growth at the core. Let’s reuse, recycle, and reorient the existing streets, bridges, and infrastructure, replace the sad surface parking lots in the downtown area with residential buildings, entice more people to live downtown — and in the process avoid grading and paving over any more of that pretty Ohio farmland.