Back in 1989 Columbus built a huge mall in the center of downtown. Columbus City Center was "Central Ohio's largest and most upscale shopping mall" according to wikipedia, which, like Leveque Tower being the tallest building between New York and Chicago (exclusive) is a pretty arbitrary claim, since "Central Ohio" is principally defined as "the greater Columbus metropolitan area."
Then a one, two, three punch brought down the behemoth, in the form of The Mall at Tuttle Crossing, Easton, and Polaris, all large, upscale shopping areas built between 1997 and 2001 in the suburbs, you know, where the people who shop at "large, upscale shopping areas" actually live. The lack of convenient location proved too much for City Center to bear. In 1992 there had been 144 tenants in the mall, by 2009 there were eight and I'm pretty sure two of them were Subways. (Columbus's love affair with $5 Foot Longs could be another essay; there's a Subway about every 50 feet in downtown.) In its death throes, Columbus City Center was still the nicest looking derelict mall I'd ever been in, and even as the last eight stores slowly shuttered the space continued as a pedestrian walkway between the still popular City Center parking garage and businesses around the statehouse. Also, it was a nice climate controlled place for the homeless to sleep. Which is probably why it was torn down. Though to be fair, the lack of business was mostly due to emigration as the downtown gentrified and the only people left living there were in $300,000 condos.
In February of 2009, Columbus Mayor Mike Coleman announced that the mall would disappear in favor of a new green space: Columbus Commons, a 9 acre park with a carousel and a bandshell and the landscaping would be changed to match the seasons and the library would have a reading area and there would be a giant chess set and a snack bar and all sorts of other awesome things that you can put in a park and a run on sentence.
And indeed since it officially opened on Memorial Day of 2011 the park has proven to be a rather nice place. And it's name is rather apt; the folks I've seen at the events I've gone to the park for represent a true cross section of the city. Nowhere else in town -- aside from an Ohio State Football (tm) game -- can you see this mix of people enjoying a common space. And it's getting a lot of use, too, considering there is literally something happening there every single day, from free yoga and fitness classes and free performances of Shakespeare, to picnics with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and concerts from a strange assortment of groups including Michael McDonald and the Offspring. There's even a kickball league. One of the best aspects of the space is it's surrounded by city streets on two and a half sides, giving it an openness that makes it feel bigger than it really is.
You're may be wondering when I'm going to start complaining. Don't worry, it's coming.
Columbus Commons is a beautiful thing. It's helped to start a revitalization of downtown. It's brought people back into the neighborhood. It's brought the city together, at least on occasion. Which is why we have to change it.
I walked by the park the other day and found a ten foot temporary fence surrounding the western third of the park. Two of it's nine acres have sold for $2 million to people who want to build two buildings on it, both containing restaurant and retail space on the first floors and five floors of condos above that. Conversations on the bus let me know I'm not the only one who feels like the park is being stolen from me to build condos I have no hope of ever living in. I'm sure the space will be lovely. I'm also sure it could be built inside the weathered buildings across High Street that are mostly full of nothing right now. I'm sure we could get the liquor store to move. They're going to have to do something with those buildings, anyway, or else the apartments on the west side of the buildings are going to have to be a whole lot cheaper than the ones on the east, might as well just tear them down and build your condos there. I'm sure the empty apartments above the abandoned wig store aren't at all indicative of how much people really want to live in that area.
But construction's already started, so it's a bit late to complain.
In any case, where there's a good thing, someone will figure out a way to ruin it in an attempt to monetize it.