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Columbus Commons Blog

Zoom in on Columbus Commons

 It’s a warm and blustery April afternoon, and Guy Worley is doing what he often does: walking through Columbus Commons.

“Look at those plants over there,” says the President/CEO of the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation (CDDC) as he points toward a pack of perennials in one of the park’s 12 soon-to-be-bursting-in-blooms gardens. “Pretty soon they’ll be up to here.”

His hand is at eye level. And he’s smiling.

Growth. Since he took over as the leader of CDDC in 2007, Guy has learned a thing or two about gardens and growth, and how a 6-acre park can help revitalize an entire downtown and put feet on the street. Or, in this case: people in the park. About a million a year.

“This used to be what we call a gray area,” Guy said on the walk over from the CDDC offices in the nearby Lazarus Building. “It was parking lots and boarded-up, vacant buildings. Now look at all this construction going on. There’s been $400 million in private investment and thousands of people have moved back downtown. And Columbus Commons started everything.”

So, come on along as Guy leads us on a tour of Columbus Commons and fills us in on some of the secrets of urban redevelopment.

Secrets?

That’s right, there are secrets to urban revitalization. And Guy is happy to share them.

“We studied other cities,” he says as he stands near the Columbus Bicentennial Pavilion. In 2007, this spot would have been inside the massive and failing City Center Mall, a deserted symbol of the decline of downtown Columbus.

And, when they studied other cities, Guy and his CDDC team quickly discovered green space was the catalyst and common thread found in successful urban renewal projects. Large, downtown malls? Not so much. “That’s why we started with Columbus Commons,” he says of the first phase of the Downtown Strategic Plan, which was to demolish the City Center Mall and build a mixed-use development anchored by a world-class park.

“And then fill the park with lots of programming, more than 200 events a year,” Guy says of Picnic with the Pops, Family Fundays, movie nights, concerts, the free yoga, Zumba and kickboxing classes, Food Truck Food Courts and, well, you get the picture.

The programming idea came from studying several downtown parks that attracted lots of people. Bryant Park, a 4-acre park in Manhattan located behind the main branch of the New York Public Library was another inspiration. “Under Bryant Park, they have two floors filled with stacks of books,” Guy says. “Under Columbus Commons, we have two floors filled with parking, 1,000 spaces.”

This hidden parking not only supports the park structurally, but financially too. The revenue generated by the Columbus Commons Main and Underground garages, remnants from the former City Center, helps pay for the free programming, operations, plantings and maintenance needed for the park’s continued success.

Columbus Commons opened in the summer of 2011, as did the nearby Scioto Mile park along the river. Some of the ideas for the Scioto Mile came from Millennium Park in Chicago, a long, thin strip of land on the banks of Lake Michigan.

Downtown Columbus suddenly had two great green spaces.

Multi-use developments chock full of restaurants, retail outlets, offices, apartments and condos began to spring up: Highpoint on Columbus Commons, along High Street; followed by 250 High, just south of Columbus Commons. The final piece in the development of Columbus Commons is Two25 Commons, a $60 million project under construction on the southeast edge of the park. The area between Columbus Commons and the Scioto Mile, in the neighborhood known as the RiverSouth District, is filled with several projects under construction by a variety of developers.

And this building boom is no coincidence; this has been the goal from the get-go. In 2009, when plans were first announced to demolish the City Center Mall, Columbus Commons was presented as a mixed use development, filled with privately developed residential, retail and commercial space, all anchored by a public greenspace.

“Come on, let’s walk over to the Bosque,” Guys says as he continues his tour of Columbus Commons.

The Bosque is a tree-filled area at the southern edge of the park, where the Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream and Tortilla cafes are located. Normally it’s a gathering place. But for the last few weeks, it’s been a construction zone.

“We refreshed it,” Guys says. “It was gravel, but we converted it to bricks to make it more sustainable year round. And we put in new trees, Armstrong Maples and London Planetrees. They’re shadier.”

The work finished up just in time for the jam-packed event season to kick-off.

Another secret Guy has learned? “Hire the best architects and designers, but what’s super important is to be on time and on budget and deliver what you’ll say you’ll do. We’ve been able to do this and that’s why our stake holders – the city, the county, Metro Parks, local corporations – continue to reinvest in us. They have confidence in us based on our track record.”

Guy uses the pavilion to illustrate another secret. It’s not really a secret here in Columbus, but is something many big cities struggle to understand and emulate. The City of Columbus’ investment along with corporate sponsorships from the AEP Foundation, Nationwide and 13 others made the pavilion possible.

“The key to our success has been our ability to bring the public and private sectors together,” Guy says. “We couldn’t do these city-changing projects without them. They enabled us to develop Columbus Commons and the Scioto Mile, redevelop the Lazarus Building, build the National Veterans Memorial & Museum and create the Scioto Greenways.”

Next up for CDDC is the development of the Scioto Peninsula. Work has begun on the National Veterans Memorial and Museum (scheduled to open in the summer of 2018), the American Museum of Natural History Dinosaur Gallery at COSI and the Scioto Peninsula Park and Garage,  both of which are scheduled to open this November.  

“Getting a new project started is interesting and challenging,” Guy says, as he begins the walk back to the CDDC offices, “but what’s really great is completing them, and creating something special for the city.”

 

Click here for the schedule of events at Columbus Commons. See you there.