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Inside the Remarkable Evolution of Downtown Columbus

Curious how downtown Columbus came to be? In this article we detail the area’s remarkable evolution from bland business district to a vibrant mix of uses. There’s something for everyone!

November 19, 2019


At the heart of one of the country’s fastest growing cities, the downtown core of Columbus has experienced a remarkable transformation.

Once a bland area that served almost exclusively as a business district, the downtown now offers so much to do and see, and it’s all accessible on foot, via shared microtransit, or the free CBUS downtown circulator.

Downtown’s rebirth continues to be spurred by major investments in new buildings, parks and other developments, totaling $299 million last year, up from $63 million in 2008. Alongside the physical evolution, the district’s population has grown rapidly, reaching 9,000 in 2018 from only 5,314 a decade earlier, according to the latest annual impact report.

The amazing transformation of downtown Columbus is even garnering national attention. After strolling the Scioto Mile riverfront, New York Times reporter Sebastian Modak described the city as living “primarily in the future tense” and that “unlike many former industrial hubs in the Midwest, Columbus feels like a city on the move.”

Downtown’s success can be attributed in part to the collaborative, public-private approach which has become a hallmark of the city. Some of the most remarkable additions — the Columbus Commons, the Scioto Mile, the Veterans Memorial — came about through unprecedented partnerships between the public and private sectors.

To capture the sheer scale of transformation downtown, here are some amazing attractions and programs that did not exist just a decade ago:

John F. Wolfe Columbus Commons: Set amid the downtown skyline, this public green space has hosted hundreds of events annually since opening in 2011. Truly representative of a new era for downtown Columbus, the Columbus Commons replaced the forlorn Columbus City Center mall and has catalyzed about $400 million in private development in the surrounding River South neighborhood.

Scioto Mile:

 

This 175-acre urban oasis stretches along the Scioto River waterfront from the Arena District to the Whittier Peninsula. The Scioto Mile and its network of parks came about through the Scioto Greenways initiative, a $36 million project completed in 2015 that created 33 acres of new parkland and 1.5 miles of multi-use trails, expanded park space, and access to the river.

Huntington Park:

 

Opened in 2009 in the downtown’s Arena District neighborhood, Huntington Park is home to the Columbus Clippers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. The intimate ballpark, just down the street from Nationwide Arena, seats 10,100 and offers gorgeous views of the Columbus skyline.

National Veterans Memorial and Museum: The country’s only museum dedicated to honoring those who have served in the military, the 53,000 square-foot cultural institution opened in October 2018. NVMM is the catalyst of a budding new cultural district, the 56-acre Scioto Peninsula, which is expected to become one of Downtown Columbus’ next great areas.

Main Library: In 2016, the main branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library system reopened after an extensive renovation, its first since 1991. The reimagined library meets the modern needs of customers and better connects the library to the neighboring Topiary Park.

Columbus Museum of Art: In 2015, The Columbus Museum of Art opened the final phase of a $37.6 million project, creating a unique meeting and special event complex and new gallery spaces.

Smart City: In 2016, Columbus was awarded $50 million as the winner of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s first-ever Smart City Challenge, setting in motion the reinvention of transportation “to accelerate human progress.” Thanks to the program, downtown hosted an autonomous vehicle route circling the Scioto Mile.

In addition to these attractions and programs, there were countless other improvements to infrastructure, developments of high-rise office buildings (like the Michael B. Coleman Government Center), and opening of shops, bars and restaurants (read about them in the Downtown Series’ Dining and Drinking segment). Amid all the development, the downtown has seen incredible growth of upscale apartment complexes, like 303 South Front.

More to Come:

The momentum is continuing in downtown Columbus, with $454 million of projects under construction and $2.1 billion in development proposed, according to the annual report.

Highlighting planned projects is the new stadium for Columbus Crew SC, slated for an empty lot on West Nationwide Boulevard next to Huntington Park.

 
Courtesy Columbus Crew SC

On the other side of downtown, Columbus State Community College has an exciting project of its own: the under-construction Cameron Mitchell Hall will become the home of the School of Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts.

If you’re excited by all that’s happening downtown, consider calling the neighborhood home. Check out all of the properties offering Rhove, where you can make money on rent.

Learn more about Downtown Columbus or visit downtowncolumbus.com for more info.