Tearing Down And Building Up

They’re in the process of demolishing the old Columbus Africentric School building along Livingston Avenue, adjacent to German Village.  As of yesterday, the site was home to mound of rubble, lots of heavy equipment, and one sad, lone section of the old school building yet to be torn down.

The Africentric School had been unused for a while, and it had become both an unkept eyesore and a weedy squatting ground for homeless people.  But then the property was bought by Nationwide Children’s Hospital from the Columbus City Schools at the end of 2017, and NCH has announced that after demolition is complete and the debris is removed, the property will be paved and turned into a parking lot.  Given the amount of construction currently underway for Nationwide Children’s Hospital — with multiple buildings and garages being built along Livingston Avenue in the area between the Columbus Africentric property and the original hospital complex — many people suspect that the former Africentric grounds won’t remain a parking lot for long.

With the old school building gone, walkers along Livingston Avenue will have a better view of the eastern part of downtown Columbus — for a while, at least. I’m generally not a fan of surface parking lots, but abandoned buildings are never welcome in a neighborhood.  I’ll take a well maintained parking lot over a crumbling magnet for vagrants, vandals and graffiti practitioners any day.

Our Fast-Growing Neighbor

Nationwide Children’s Hospital is growing faster than the feet of a 12-year-old boy, and there’s more to come.

Yesterday the hospital announced its additional development plans, which feature constructing seven new buildings, most of them in the narrow corridor between the I-70 freeway and Livingston Avenue.  When the buildings are completed, the NCH campus will stretch from its early buildings just north of Parsons all the way down to Grant.  The new buildings include a behavioral health center, a medical office building, and a research facility, and are forecast to cost $730 million.

nationwide-childrens-hospital-schieber-5The new buildings will continue the amazing growth spurt at the hospital, which has been home to ever-present construction cranes for some years now.  The ongoing expansion has helped propel NCH up the lists of preeminent children’s medical facilities in America.  The hospital is obviously a wonderful health care asset for the community and its families — anyone who has ever had to take a kid to Children’s for treatment knows that — and it’s also a growing employer during a period where new job creation isn’t exactly skyrocketing.  We’re indeed fortunate that NCH calls Columbus home.

As a German Villager, though, I’m also interested in the impact of the NCH expansion plans on this part of town.  You would expect that the construction of new buildings and a pretty campus will spur ancillary development efforts, and there’s at least a chance that the people who will be toiling in those new buildings might want to live within walking distance of their new workplaces.  I’m guessing that we’ll see a surge in interest in homes in Schumacher Place, German Village, and Merion Village, as well as attention to the buildings and lots on the south side of Livingston.  I think the NCH plans can’t help but improve our neighborhood.

There’s still a big piece of the puzzle, though, just west of the edge of the expanded NCH property, where the Columbus Africentric property now stands.  The Columbus Public Schools will be moving the school one of these days, which will leave a large parcel of property right on the edge of German Village and just across the freeway from downtown up for grabs.  Will NCH continue its move west, or will a developer decide that the school site presents a really choice opportunity for another mixed-use effort?

At The Crest

IMG_6441Yesterday Dr. Science and I decided to grab lunch at The Crest Gastropub, newly opened near the corner of Livingston and Parsons, catty corner to Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

The Crest is seen by many people in the neighborhood as a key component of the effort to revive the Parsons Avenue corridor.  It’s also a place with an interesting air of legend surrounding it.  For decades, the Crest Tavern was a legendary saloon in the Clintonville area, and more recently it was purchased, refurbished, and turned into a well-regarded foodie destination.  I’ve never been there in either of its incarnations.  Now the proprietors have opened a new location, and Parsons Avenue boosters are hoping it thrives.

IMG_6437If my visit yesterday is any indication, I’d say the Crest will do just fine, thank you very much.  The new location is roomy and attractive, with a central bar/counter area, a cluster of high-tops where Dr. Science and I landed, and more conventional tables sprinkled just about everywhere.  It’s got high ceilings, a bright feeling, and a cool piece of artwork on one wall that looks like a recreation of tree bark with bits of moss on it.  I’d guess that the ambiance will appeal to most diners.

I think they’ll find the food pretty appealing, too.  The Crest has a large menu with lots of enticing options, and according to our friendly server it’s known for its salads.  I recoiled in horror from that suggestion and went instead for the Americana burger, which is two hamburger patties, cheese, bacon, and onion straws.  The quality of burger offerings tell you a lot about a place, and this was a juicy slice of culinary excellence.  I’d recommend that you add some of the Crest’s own special recipe hot sauce, which really gave the burger a nice kick.

One note:  the Crest isn’t cheap.  The Americana burger comes in at $16 and thereby continues the trend toward burger-entree price convergence that you see at many more upscale restaurants.  At many places, burgers have long since crossed the $10 threshold, marched relentlessly upward in price, and broken through the $15.00 barrier.  I love burgers, and I’m willing to shell out $16.00 for a really good double-patty effort once in a while, but at some point — I’m not sure just where right now — I’m going to draw the line.

I’ll happily go back to The Crest Gastropub, though.  If you visit, be sure to pick up one of the cool, free buttons they are offering, with a lamb and Ohio flag logo that celebrates the proprietors’ Lebanese heritage.

Prettying Up Parsons

IMG_5970In Columbus, Parsons Avenue is a kind of dividing line.  To the south of downtown are German Village and Merion Village, where you will find carefully restored old houses, young professionals, and empty nesters, and the gentrification wave has spread east through Schumacher Place — which is bordered on one side by Parsons Avenue.

As our friend The Activist said, Parsons Avenue is sort of like the demilitarized zone.  After walking through shaded streets filled with well-kept brick homes and pretty landscaping, you come to a busy street with a decidedly grittier urban vibe.  Some of the storefronts are vacant, and those that are occupied are home to revival churches, nail salons, fast food outlets, second-hand shops, and convenience stores.  It’s not uncommon to see shirtless guys standing around or police cars stopped, with their lights flashing.

IMG_5969The Parsons area seems to be in transition, however.  Nationwide Children’s Hospital is a big impetus for change.  Located at the corner of Parsons and East Livingston Avenue, the hospital complex has been growing rapidly in all directions along both of those streets, adding new care facilities, medical buildings, and ancillary service businesses.  The ongoing expansion has brought construction cranes to the skyline, created a range of new jobs, and attracted doctors and the other people staffing the new buildings to the area — and many of them seem to have decided to live in Schumacher Place, Merion Village, and German Village.

The advance guard of gentrification, in the form of banners hung from lampposts and decorative planters, have found Parsons Avenue, at least in the blocks between the hospital and East Whittier Street.  The planters include painted information about the area — such as when George Parsons lived — and the banners grandly proclaim that Parsons Avenue is “The Gateway to the South.”  If you agree with the teaching of Broken Windows Theory, these kind of beautification touches will aid the gentrification effort because they will help to make people feel more comfortable on Parsons Avenue — but fewer stopped police cars and fewer shirtless guys loitering near gas stations would help, too.

Why We Care About Who Is A Buckeye

If you’ve never lived in Ohio, you perhaps cannot truly understand the role of Ohio State athletes in the community.  They aren’t just football players or basketball players:  they are expected to be role models, good citizens, and able representatives of an important institution.  Buckeyes fans want Ohio State to have great players, to be sure, but we also want them to be great people so that they can fulfill that aspirational role.

This little video of a visit some Ohio State basketball players made to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, to hang out with some of the kids who are being treated there, gives a glimpse of what can happen when good people become Buckeyes.  And it happens all the time, usually without any fanfare.  When one of my colleagues was battling cancer, he was surprised by a visit from some Ohio State football players, including one of the biggest stars on the team.  They came, they sat down, they talked with him and listened to him, and they provided encouragement.  No photographers or publicists were there, and to my knowledge no news story about the visit ever appeared.  But my friend greatly appreciated the gesture and the fact that these football players took time away from being BMOC to visit an ill stranger.

It touched him deeply, and it made me understand, better than I had before, the great significance these young people can assume — if they are good people.  That’s one reason why we care so much about who becomes a Buckeye.

Les Wexner And Columbus

It was a lucky day for central Ohio when Leslie Wexner was born.

Wexner graduated from The Ohio State University, started The Limited Stores in central Ohio and saw them grow into a huge retail conglomerate, and has never forgotten his central Ohio roots.  Earlier this week Wexner, his wife Abigail, and The Limited Foundation gave a $100 million gift to Ohio State.  That gift, which Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee aptly characterized as transformative, is just the latest example of Wexner’s profound impact on central Ohio, its citizens, and its business community.

It is hard to imagine what central Ohio would be like without Les Wexner.  His philanthropic efforts are legendary.  At Ohio State, he has contributed millions toward the construction of the Wexner Center for the Arts and the Les Wexner Football Complex at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.  The latest gift will benefit the Wexner Center for the Arts and various entities within the OSU hospitals.  Other local beneficiaries of Wexner’s generosity include Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the Wexner Heritage Village — among many, many others.

As impressive as Wexner’s charitable activities have been, however, he has had an even more profound impact on central Ohio as a capitalist.  The Limited and its various affiliates, subsidiaries, and spin-offs have employed thousands of central Ohioans and brought many new, creative people to our community; those businesses and the taxes paid by their employees have contributed millions toward the coffers of local governments throughout the area.  The Easton Town Center, which Wexner developed, is one of the premier mixed-use shopping areas in the nation and attracts many out-of-towners to our fair city.  And the house where Kish and I live wouldn’t be here but for Wexner and his decision to launch a new suburb in New Albany, a formerly sleepy farming community in the far northeast corner of Franklin County.

People may disagree with Les Wexner’s views about how Columbus or Ohio State should address certain issues.  No one can dispute, however, that Wexner’s generosity and business skills have had an enormous impact in shaping the Columbus in which we now live.