Changing One Corner

When I first started working at the law firm, more than 30 years ago, the lot at the western corner of Gay and High Streets in downtown Columbus was occupied by some kind of five and dime store.  It may have been a Woolworth’s, it may have been a Kresge’s, but there was a building and business there where I bought some small item, once.

I only went there once, because very soon after I made my purchase the building was torn down and the lot was paved over for parking.  It was one of the last gasps of the Columbus urban craze for demolishing old buildings that left the core area of downtown a veritable wasteland of ugly surface parking lots.  The preponderance of parking lots gave the center of downtown a kind of sad, scarred feel that made you wonder whether the area would ever be revived.

But slowly, over the past decade, many the surface lots are being replaced with buildings.  Some of the buildings are pure residential developments, many are mixed-use concepts with retail on the ground floor, office space above, and residential at the top, and a few purely commercial buildings have been constructed, too.  And some of the commercial buildings with parking lots have been converted into something that is much more interesting — like the former tire and lube business a few blocks from the firm that was turned into a cool bar, with its former parking lots becoming fenced-in outdoor seating areas complete with fire pits and games and food truck space.

And now the big, long-empty lot at the corner of Gay and High has finally joined this welcome trend.  Work has been ongoing for a while now, and as the picture with this post indicates, it’s getting close to being done.  It’s a huge project that is one of those mixed-use developments, and the buildings look pretty cool — and are much preferable to the grim asphalt expanse that we’d been looking at for years.  We’re now wondering what business might move into the ground floor options, and are hoping they will add to the buzz on Gay Street — for some years now the coolest street in downtown Columbus largely because the original buildings on the block between High Street and Third Street somehow survived the wrecking ball.

After more than three decades, our little part of the world is being reconfigured.  Scratch another surface parking lot and substitute something more attractive and vibrant and hopefully a harbinger of more to come.  Our downtown is on the move, one parking lot at a time, and we couldn’t be happier about it.

Refilling The Empties

Refilling empties is a long-recognized recycling method.  That same concept applies to our downtown areas, too — except instead of refilling bottles and cans you’re reusing parcels of property where buildings once stood, but that have long since become parking lots.

IMG_6365Of course, downtown areas need some parking, but block after block of parking lots is unsightly and depressing.  They’re like the scarred urban equivalent of strip-mined land.  It’s a big issue in Columbus, where in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s the core downtown area became a checkerboard of parking lots.  One big lot is found at the corner of Gay and High, only one block from the Statehouse at the center of the city.  Once it was a bustling five-and-dime store, now it’s just a sad asphalt surface.

The redevelopment boom in downtown Columbus started with refurbishing empty buildings and turning them into apartments and condos, but now it’s turning to refilling those empty parking lots.  And, finally, the lot at the corner of Gay and High looks like it will get its turn, as a local developer has submitted a plan that would turn a parking lot into a mixed use structure that would include more than 150 apartments, retail spaces — and parking.  At the same time, companies are working on renovating some of the other buildings in the neighborhood that have been either vacant or underused for years, and city planners are attributing at least part of the impetus for the work to the success of the Gay Street corridor of restaurants, which have helped to make downtown more hip and attractive.

I’ll look forward to the day when there aren’t many parking lots in downtown Columbus anymore; buildings tend to be a lot more interesting and attractive than parked cars.  I also think, though, that it’s time to stop the ever-outward-radiating development of suburban sprawl that has turned what used to be rolling farmland surrounding Columbus into countless look-alike suburban communities, and focus instead on the central city.  The infrastructure is here and now the people are returning, too.  Let’s let our remaining farmland be and start to refill some of these empty spaces.