Making Old Buildings Look Cool

I’ve written about the enormous boom in new building construction in downtown Columbus, but there’s another trend underway that also is helping to make the downtown core cooler:  taking old buildings and sprucing them up.  Interesting signage on the walls, flags draped down the front, neon signs, bunting — they all can take an older structure and give it a fresh new look.

The latest example of this phenomenon is the Yerke Mortgage Company building, now called 145 Rich.  I love the construction company sign that’s just been painted on the side of the building, which has a nifty retro element to it.  Touches like these help to make the downtown area a more visually appealing place.

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.

 

CMAX

Recently Kish and I went to a show at the Riffe Center, across the street from the Ohio Statehouse.  We noticed a new Central Ohio Transit Authority sign, for “CMAX” as well as our old favorite, the CBUS.

CMAX?

It’s a new concept for COTA — a rapid transit bus line.  The CMAX will make fewer stops, at major destinations on the most congested bus lines, with the goal of reducing travel time, reducing congestion, and creating better conditions for pedestrians.  And, from the COTA website linked above, it looks like the ultimate plan is for the CMAX to include improved technology — like, perhaps, wireless options on buses.  The Bus-Riding Conservative has long held that offering wireless could be the key to making riding buses really attractive to the Gen Xers, who he thinks would happily choose an option that would allow them to check out all of their social media contacts while they are commuting.

The first CMAX line will run along Cleveland Avenue, connecting downtown to Polaris Parkway — a route that COTA estimates serves more than 220,000 residents and 170,000 workers.  The sign at High and State is for one of the stops at the downtown end of the route.

I have to give COTA credit — with the CBUS, the Airconnect bus that links the airport and downtown hotels, and now CMAX, our local transit agency is making a good effort to redefine “the bus” and provide service that is more targeted to what the community really needs.  Here’s hoping that CMAX is another success story.

Cranes Over Columbus 

When you see one of those towering construction cranes, you know that some serious work is underway.  When you see a number of those cranes in the same area, you know that things are hopping.

Right now, downtown Columbus is Construction Crane Central.

These two cranes are on two adjoining blocks of High Street on the south side of downtown.  There’s another crane to the south and west, and construction projects also are in progress at the corner of Third and Rich, at the intersection of Gay and High, and in other parts of the core downtown area.  

By this time next year, downtown Columbus is going to look a lot different.  And, equally important, we’ll see a happy decline in the number of those ugly surface lots.  (As an example of the invisible hand at work, incidentally, monthly parking rates in the downtown area are going up, up, up almost as fast as the new buildings.)

It’s an exciting time to be in Columbus.

Under The Van

When we went to lunch on Tuesday, Broad Street was blocked off at the intersection of Broad and High, and we could see lots of police cars and emergency vehicles, lights flashing, gathered a block away at the intersection of Broad and Third.  As we crossed the street, I asked the friendly policeman what was going on.  He grinned, shrugged, and said that a protester had chained himself to the underside of a van.

“An anti-Trump protest?” I asked.  “Nope,” the officer said.  “The guy is protesting a pipeline.”  And as we walked in front of the Statehouse, we saw some protesters out front, handing out leaflets that read “water is life” and complaining that Ohio had sent some state troopers to help North Dakota deal with protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which native Americans and other groups contend will harm tribal lands and threaten water supplies.

When we came back from lunch an hour later, the hubbub was finally dying down.  The police had removed the protester and had the van on a flatbed truck, ready to be hauled away, as shown in the photo above.  The protester was an Athens County man who is part of an environmental group called Appalachia Resist, and he was arrested and charged with inducing panic, disorderly conduct, hindering, and failing to comply.

It seemed weird to protest the Dakota Pipeline in Columbus, Ohio, to the point where you would chain yourself to the underside of a van and block traffic for hours at one of downtown’s busiest intersections.  Even if you felt strongly about the wisdom of Ohio dispatching troopers to another state, staging a protest that just inconvenienced people and probably pissed them off doesn’t seem like an approach that is reasonably calculated to win people to your point of view.

Columbus Under Construction

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.

IMG_2434The 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.

Random Everyday Weirdness

IMG_1265Recently I was walking past one of those planters you see on the sidewalks in urban areas.  You know what I mean — the large concrete boxes where generic plants can be found that might look good for a week or so, but then wither after not being regularly watered, with the planters often ending up as repositories for cigarette butts.  They’re supposed to make the surroundings look better, but normally you pass them by without a second glance.

This planter, though, featured a naked doll figure that had been carefully buried thigh-deep in the dirt.  The doll seemed to be making an intentional, kind of stick-it gesture to the world.  As I walked by, I wondered:  is the doll in fact supposed to be conveying some kind of message?  What’s the back story here?

Such random, everyday weirdness helps to make the world a richer place.