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.

Milestone

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Kish and I have now relocated to temporary quarters in German Village, a distinctive neighborhood dating from the 1800s and located just south of downtown Columbus.

There is a stone marker at the end of our new block, right in front of a small commercial area with a restaurant and a few stores. It looks like the remnant of the kind of markers that used to be used for platting or showing the distance to nearby towns. It seems like an apt symbol for us as we move from the suburbs to a more urban setting. We wanted to be within walking distance of restaurants and grocery stores and shops, just as we were when we lived on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. back in the ’80s, and now we’re here.

Car2go 4 Cols

Car2go has come to Columbus.  Walking in to work this morning, I saw two of their cars parked along Gay Street — which is appropriate, because Gay Street is the coolest street in downtown Columbus and car2go is a pretty cool idea.

IMG_1617According to the website and its FAQs, it works like this.  You fill out an application form and make one $35 payment to register after your application is accepted.  You are mailed a membership card.  You download the car2go app to your smartphone then use it to locate cars.  When you find one, you swipe your card, answer some questions, get in, and drive.  You are charged 38 cents a minute for use of the car, and you return it to a metered space within the car2go home area, which covers German Village, downtown, the University district, and Clintonville.  The charges are billed to your credit card.

It’s an interesting idea that is based on a core reality of urban living — owning your own car can be a pain when you live in a city.  You don’t need a car most of the time.  Parking spaces can be hard to find, and figuring out where to put your car can be a hassle.  With car2go, you only have a car when you really need it, and you only pay for it as long as you use it.  The two car2go vehicles I saw today were the small, two-seater models that seem well-suited to their limited purpose.

Will Columbus car2go work?  Beats me.  But if you want to offer an urban living lifestyle, as Columbus does, it seems like a pretty good idea that would fill a void.

 

Construction Cranes On The Commons

There’s building going on down at the Columbus Commons.

IMG_1238It’s part of the housing mini-boom that has gripped downtown Columbus over the past few years, as developers have rehabbed old buildings into apartments and condos and also built some new structures.  The housing boomlet has made downtown into a much more bustling place, especially on weekends.  It’s why we’ve finally got a downtown grocer and several new restaurants, and it’s one of the reasons (aside from our firm, of course) that Gay Street has become the coolest street in downtown Columbus.

The development on the Commons is called Highpoint and will offer studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments.  It’s located right on the Columbus Commons, with the front to be along High Street and the back facing the Commons park.  It’s one of several developments that have been built in the south half of downtown Columbus, between the Statehouse and the Franklin County court complex.  I think (and hope) we’ll be seeing more of this, as Columbus slowly moves to more of a residential downtown that caters to the urban living crowd.

Chickens, Eggs, And Downtown Grocery Stores

A local grocery store, Hills Market, has announced that it will open a store in downtown Columbus.  The store is to open this spring in a 12,000 square foot facility at 95 North Grant Avenue, right next to the Columbus College of Art and Design and the residential development along Gay Street.

This is great news for those of us who are interested in seeing more people living in downtown Columbus.  Having amenities like grocery stores, dry cleaners, wine shops, and other basic necessities of modern life within walking distance is a crucial part of urban living.  It just doesn’t make sense to move downtown if you need to hop into your car and drive to a suburb to buy food.

For a long time, there was a chicken-and-egg element to the issue of a downtown grocery store.  Which comes first:  the store, or the residents who will use it?  Now we don’t need to worry about that question any more.  Hills Market also is a perfect store for a downtown location because it offers organic options and specialty foods and therefore might attract downtown office workers who want to pick up something interesting for dinner before they head home.

I’m betting the Hills Market move causes more businesses to look seriously at the downtown market and lead more people to think about moving there, too.

Walking The High Line

The other day we visited The High Line park, located on Manhattan’s west side. It is one of the coolest, most interesting parks I’ve ever seen.

The High Line is a park built on an abandoned, elevated freight line.  When you walk the park you are strolling along a path several stories above the ground.  The railroad tracks — which are still visible in certain parts of the park — have been supplemented by walking paths, the areas around the paths have been planted with different greenery and grasses, and at different points the park features unique bird feeders, seating areas, and plenty of good photo opportunities, including fine views of the top of the Empire State Building in the distance.  It is wonderful to be able to walk unimpeded by surging traffic and rocketing yellow cabs and jostling crowds and appreciate the interesting vistas offered by this little corner of New York City.

The High Line winds its way from New York’s meatpacking district to West 30th Street, moving past businesses and residential buildings.  You stroll past rooftops, warehouses, billboards, office spaces, backyard grilling areas, and other urban scenes.  It is a whimsical journey, to walk so far above the streets of New York, and at least some of the people who live in the neighboring buildings — including the folks who put up the painted window scene at left — have recognized it and treated it as such.

What a great idea this park was!  It took what was a rusting, derelict structure reflective of urban blight and converted it into a gem of a park that attracts visitors and attention to the neighborhood and has brought restaurants, bars, and residents to the area.  The High Line is owned by the City of New York and maintained and operated by the Friends of the High Line.   If only every city government and civic group were as creative and far-sighted in deciding how to deal with aging city structures!

A Visit To Cleveland’s West Side Market Area

Cleveland's West Side Market

I was in Cleveland last night and took some associates from the firm out to dinner.  (Thanks very much for the company, ladies!)  They decided we should go to a restaurant across the street from the West Side Market at the corner of West 25th St. and Lorain Avenue in the Ohio City area of Cleveland.

The West Side market clock tower

The West Side Market, which opened in 1912, is one of the most beautiful buildings in Cleveland.  Made of yellow brick, with a sturdy yet gracefully curved facade and a stunning clock tower that features cross-hatched brickwork, the West Side Market is an architectural gem.  It still serves as a functioning market, although it was closed for the day by the time we arrived in the area.  It is one of those lovely buildings that makes older neighborhoods great.

Unfortunately, the neighborhood around the West Side Market seems to be struggling somewhat.  As we drove up, we saw a policeman handcuffing a suspect next to a patrol car in the entranceway of an apartment building, and on the opposite side of the street a titanically drunk man was weaving uncertainly back and forth as he made his way down the sidewalk.  These are the kinds of things that make you question whether the neighborhood is very safe.  Although our restaurant served good food and offered an excellent selection of beers, it was largely deserted during the early evening hours, and I found myself wondering if the security issues were affecting its patronage.

According to my dinner companions, the neighborhood and other supporters are working hard to preserve the West Side Market, and obviously that kind of campaign is important.  Our brief visit to the area, however, also indicated that physical structures are only part of the equation.  Urban neighborhoods will thrive only if residents feel safe in walking the streets and visitors feel secure as they drop by to shop, eat, or enjoy a fine Belgian ale.  It looks like the West Side Market area still has some work to do in that regard.

A Grocery Store in Downtown Columbus (sort of)

More and more people move to downtown Columbus each year, but the area still lacks many amenities essential for sustaining a community, such as grocery stores. After moving downtown, my friends and I quickly learned that the closest place to buy beer in the evening is a Sunoco gas station near the Courthouse building, about ten blocks away.

So when a friend of mine told me there is a Kroger downtown on Front St., I told him he must be mistaken. I looked it up later out of curiosity and learned that my friend was partly right – there is a Kroger on Front St., but it is in the Brewery District just outside the limits of downtown. I walked over there one day to check it out and took some pictures:

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Even though it’s not technically downtown, it’s close enough to provide some support for the downtown community. It’s presence there shows how far the area has come in the past few years.

As you can see, it’s a pretty nice Kroger. It has a much more urban feel than most locations. The brick design of the building is clearly meant to follow the Brewery district style. The inside reminds me of Whole Foods and Giant Eagle, with a large selection of alternative, “organic” foods.

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Downtown residents may have a better option soon. An expansion plan for the Arena District calls for a Giant Eagle to be built close to the North Market. Unfortunately, plans have been postponed because of the recession.

Urban Living

Richard has moved into an rehabbed apartment building on Spring Street in downtown Columbus, about three blocks from the Ohio Statehouse. It will be interesting to see how he likes it. Urban living can be a lot of fun, but it also has its challenges.

View of Capitol from East Capitol Street

View of Capitol from East Capitol Street

Kish and I lived in Washington, D.C. at 1019 East Capitol Street, right next to Lincoln Park. You could walk out our front door, walk into the middle of East Capital Street, look due west, and see the Capitol dome looming over the tree tops, ten blocks away. To a 23-year-old recent college graduate, this seemed very cool. We lived in a very small apartment on the third floor of a walkup “brownstone,” and Michigan Senator Carl Levin was one of our neighbors. It was great to be able to walk almost anywhere you wanted to go, and if it was too far to walk you could take the D.C. Metro. Some parts of living in D.C. were a hassle, however. If you came home after dark there was a distinct possibility of getting mugged, and shopping at the convenience store nearby was a lesson in the law of supply and demand. (The store owner had the only supply within a six-block radius, and he could demand whatever price he wanted for his goods.) If you walked farther, to the Eastern Market Safeway, then you faced the logistical issue of how to get the groceries back home.

When you live in a suburb, you fall into ruts. You buy groceries at the same place, eat at the same places, and tend to drive anywhere. Urban living gets you out of that rut and into new ways of thinking and acting.  That process is another thing that makes urban living interesting.