Our Changing Skyline

For years now, the skyline of downtown Columbus has stayed pretty much the same.  For decades, it’s been the Nationwide complex of buildings to the north, the courthouse and municipal buildings to the south, and the cluster of high-rises surrounding Capitol Square and the LeVeque Tower in the middle.

All of that is now changing, and rapidly.  As I mentioned recently, there are construction cranes all over the downtown area.  Every day I walk past a construction site at the corner of Rich and Third Street that is taking the place of what used to be a grassy expanse adjacent to Columbus Commons that was home to kickball games and exercise groups.  Soon it is going to be the location of a 12-story mixed use building with retail on the ground floor, a few stories of office space, and residential units.  There are similar multi-story, “mixed use” buildings under construction up and down High Street, filling in most of the surface parking lots that have been an eyesore on Columbus’ main north-south street and helping to bridge the “skyline gap” between the taller buildings in downtown Columbus.  And the city is abuzz about the recent announcement of a 35-story skyscraper to be built next to the North Market — an addition that will really change the look of the skyline.

Columbus isn’t Manhattan, where the construction of a 35-story building wouldn’t merit much attention.  Here in the heartland, a 35-story building is a pretty big deal.

But, to my mind, the North Market high-rise announcement, and the other construction projects aren’t the biggest sign of how things are changing in downtown Columbus.  Instead, the most compelling indicator is the money that has been poured into refurbishing the crumbling, crappy Long Street garage, where I used to park my car until the structure was condemned by the city.  Amazingly, a new owner purchased the building and has been working on it for months, giving it a spiffy blue metal and glass facelift and adding a car wash option for parkers.  You know your downtown area is heading in the right direction when developers are willing to put money into a derelict parking garage in the expectation that the conversion of surface lots into buildings, and the influx of workers and new downtown residents, will make a better parking garage a profitable enterprise.

What’s going on in downtown Columbus is pretty amazing, and we’re going to be seeing the results of the changes every day as we drive, and walk, and bike, into work.

 

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Condado Downtown

IMG_1238The food fare in downtown Columbus has improved tremendously over the past 10 years, and it keeps getting better.  The latest welcome entrant is Condado, which already has a solid core of fans who’ve frequented its location near the OSU campus.  Yesterday, when the Jersey Girl, the Origamist, the Bus-Riding Conservative and I decided to check it out for lunch, the place was jammed, and I’m guessing that at least some of the patrons weren’t Condado newbies like we were.

Condado is all about tacos.  (And, according to its impressive beverage menu, it’s all about tequila, too, but this was lunch, after all, so checking out the tequila and Mexican beer choices will just have to wait for another day.)  There are some standard taco choices, but you also have the option of building your own taco by filling out a checklist, like you would at a sushi bar.  The checklist allows you to choose a tortilla (hard corn, soft flour, or more exotic combinations), a protein, toppings, cheeses, salsa, and sauces that range in the heat index all the way up to ghost pepper, which carries an “INFERNO WARNING” attached.  After some careful deliberation, you make your choices and then hang out in the happily raucous Condado atmosphere until your waitperson brings your tacos out.

When you go to a taco place, you always wonder how big the tacos will be.  I was hungry and got two of them, and it was plenty of food.  One of the tacos filled a “ju-ju” shell (flour exterior, corn interior, with queso and chorizo) with roasted pollo, pickled red onions, chihuahua cheese, salsa verde, and condado secret taco sauce, which got three flames on the heat meter.  It was lip-smacking superb, with just the right heat level.  The other option combined braised beef brisket, cilantro and onion, queso fresco, salsa rioja, and cilantro lime aioli in a flour tortilla.  It was good, too, but the number of sauces in the soft taco made it messy to eat.  I don’t mind licking my fingers, so I really didn’t care, but in the future I’m going to either cut down on the salsa/sauce combos or stick to the tortillas that include a hard interior shell.  I’m happy to report that the BRC, ever an adventurous soul, tried the ghost pepper sauce and lived to tell the tale with only mild discomfort, thanks to the timely intervention of some heat-killing guacamole.

Condado offers both interior seating and exterior seating on a small patio filled with picnic tables.  When we were there, both seating areas were bustling.  We all agreed that Condado would be a prime place to come after work for a few Mexican beers or a slug of that tequila, some chips and freshly made salsa, and maybe a taco for the road.

I’m glad to see a new downtown Columbus restaurant get off to a flying start — especially this restaurant, which is on the ground floor of one of the Highpoint buildings next to Columbus Commons.  The High Street retail space in those buildings has been slow to fill up, and the downtown lunch crowd has been waiting patiently.  If Condado proves to be as successful as our initial visit suggests, that may encourage other restauranteurs to come join the party.  Those of us who work and live in and around the downtown area would be happy to have them.

Stretching Out On Commons Ground

IMG_1185Yesterday morning as I walked to work I noticed that seemingly everyone else out on the streets was wearing some kind of yoga outfit and carrying a mat.  Some staggered forward with a grim, zombie-like obsessiveness, others marched with intense and purposeful stride, but all were heading for the heart of downtown Columbus.  Naturally, I had to follow to see what the heck was going on.

I learned that on Saturday morning the yoga practitioners among us have a little confab on the main lawn of the Columbus Commons to do their yoga thing.  Actually, it’s not that little — I’d say there were more than 100 people there, stretching out, regulating their breathing and enhancing their innate flexibility, and getting ready to do the downward facing dog — and still more were arriving.  It was a very pleasant setting for yoga, with the cool, grassy lawn for the most part covered in shade and the downtown skyscrapers towering in the background against the bright blue sky.  You could see how it might help promote the inner calmness and serenity that yoga is supposed to bring about.

I walk past the Commons just about every day, and it’s become a real beehive of activity for the people who live in or near downtown.  From Saturday morning yoga to carousel rides for kids to kickball games after work to nighttime concerts and other events, the Columbus Commons is making a great contribution to the downtown community.  It’s a vast improvement over the City Center mall that used to occupy that space.  No one, but no one, ever did yoga in the City Center mall.

More Fountains, Please

IMG_1110They’ve put a new fountain in at one of the entrances to the Columbus Commons.  It’s a nice fountain, with its lily pad look and bright green surrounding shrubbery.  But then, all fountains really are nice, aren’t they?  The burble of the water, the coolness of the air around them, the slight spray on your face, the gleam of the shimmering water on a sunny day — these are the things that make fountains a great addition to any metropolitan area.

If I were in charge of city planning, I’d make sure that a chunk of development money was dedicated to building more fountains.

First Concert At The Commons

IMG_0883Walking home tonight on a fine evening — at least until the rains are supposed to come later on — the music started pumping as I approached Columbus Commons.  It’s the first outdoor concert of the year, at least to my knowledge, and the music was cranked up and the food trucks were out in abundance.

This particular concert was a private event, for OSU students, but it made me resolve that we’re going to go to one of the concerts on the Commons this year, come hell or high water.  There’s nothing like live music to provide a shot of adrenalin heading into the weekend.

Stoned Soul Picnic

On our way back from the Short North Kish and I walked past the Columbus Commons.  There was a line stretching around the block, and a lot of the people had those collapsible chairs slung over their shoulders.  The CC lawn was dotted with food trucks and games and other telltale signs of an outdoor concert in the offing.

IMG_5635It turns out that one of the local radio stations, Magic 106.3, is sponsoring Stoned Soul Picnic, an all-day event with a bunch of musical acts and activities for kids.  The Commons is a cool venue for a concert, with what passes for skyscrapers in Columbus in the background and some new buildings under construction right next door.  And, of course, events like Stoned Soul Picnic are an important part of the continuing effort to get people to come downtown at times other than 9-5 M-F and to help entrepreneurs and restauranteurs who have decided to open up shop downtown.  It’s great to see a large crowd of happy people ready to be entertained — and, perhaps, drop a dollar or two in the process.

I looked long and hard, but saw no signs of surreys — or sassafras and moonshine, for that matter.