The City of Dublin is an affluent Columbus suburb typically known for it’s good schools, easy access to jobs, and low density housing and retail developments that have rapidly sprawled outward over the past forty years. Overall, a fairly average suburban community in appearance, crowned with a quaint historic Downtown intersection that is home to a small selection of local shops and restaurants.
Fast forward another forty years and things may look drastically different. Officials with the city’s planning department have been steadily working on the Bridge Street Corridor plan, which calls for the redevelopment of 1,000 acres located at the core of Dublin, roughly defined by Sawmill Road, State Route 161 and the arc of Interstate 270. Essentially, this development would capitalize upon the success of Historic Dublin and expand around it with denser urban infill that woud take the form of multiple mixed-use neighborhoods built side-by-side throughout this entire area. The Corridor could eventually host over 8,000 residential units in over 15 million square feet of mixed-use space, and be serviced by new mass transit lines connected to Downtown Columbus or other suburban communities.
We sat down recently for a lengthy interview about The Bridge Street Corridor with Steve Langworthy, Director of Planning for the City of Dublin, Colleen Gilger, Economic Development Manager for the City of Dublin, and Justin Goodwin, Planner with The City of Dublin. Read on for a full multipage transcript of our interview.
Walker: Well, to start can you tell us a bit how this whole plan originally came together?
Justin: Sure. We started with our 2007 Community Plan. That really did provide a framework that eventually grew into the Bridge Street Corridor Initiative. You can access that plan online but it does show some graphic concepts of how portions of what we now call the Bridge Street Corridor could develop over time, including the Dublin Village Center site. We did assume back then that over time that site would have the potential to develop into a mixed-use town center. Something that maybe would invoke the idea of Easton, but would maybe function a little bit more as a real neighborhood with more of an integration of uses, including a residential component integrated into the center. We also had a historic Dublin area plan, and we’ve had versions of that plan for quite some time, assuming that we would have some infill development expanding around the historic core in a compatible scale. Those were the two big pieces of the larger Bridge Street area that were included in the community plan. There were lots of other portions of this area that weren’t really assumed to change over time. The big one was the OCLC office campus. At that time, nobody really had any idea that they might be interested in redeveloping. It was just a little bit behind the curve in terms of where the market was going. The economy hadn’t changed yet. We hadn’t had as much of the research done on where market demand was shifting in terms of the housing market. So we got those two pieces of the community plan adopted, which basically encourage more of a mixed-use, walkable type of environment. In fact, the language is almost identical.
Steve: The entertainment value, the nightlife, the walkability… all of those things were considered in our research. OCLC was another trigger because for years they had this campus that felt isolated. And that’s exactly what they wanted. But then they came to us and said, “We’re changing our way of thinking here, and we think this site might be better suited for a new kind of development. So what can you do for us?” Then we had the change of ownership of Dublin Village Center from an absentee owner to a more local owner, and it just seemed like these little pieces kept falling together into place. We also had a planning project for creating a greenway across this area, and Terry Foegler came in and said “Let’s expand this idea and start talking about this Bridge Street Corridor as a center of the community.”
Walker: Would you say that planning for walkability is coming from a top-down planning approach or from the ground-up within the community?
Colleen: I think from the community. I’ve been here since 1997 and I remember when our little historic Dublin area was vacant. It was nothing. It was terrible. But everyone wanted to make it something special. And it took awhile, but I believe as it continued to gain momentum and success, and get a couple of new buildings and restaurants, it started to develop this following and people realized that geographically, historic Dublin is so limited because you bump up against houses very quickly. That little geographic area was so small you could only make it so big and add so much to it. But it did add that first walkable nightlife and entertainment area for this town. It’s where people could stay here and get that vibe whereas before they had to go into Downtown or the Short North to get any of that. Now they can park, walk a couple of blocks, go to the wine bistro and have a nice dinner and go to a little boutique. I think that people want more of that in Dublin.
Justin: We’re seeing the demand at least by the perceived parking problems we have there, similar to what you see in the Short North. It’s hard to find a place to park. That’s a success indicator.
Colleen: Yes. It’s a good problem to have!
Justin: There’s more demand than we have capacity right now for that type of environment.
Colleen: I remember the days when you could always find a place to park at any time of day in historic Dublin. And back then people would complain that it was empty. So now we have the opposite situation.
Steve: Walker, in some respects, the “from the ground-up” portion of this that you mentioned are people who aren’t even living here yet. We’re planning in anticipation of that group coming. We had a number of national consultants come in and they told us that we need to plan for the next generation. You can’t plan for the last generation. So that started changing how we think, particularly in the minds of our City Council. We’ve planned really well for our traditional family units. We still have 94% of the city that’s going to serve that population. But we also have to be thinking about what this next generation wants to do. What environment do they want. How do we attract them to live here?
Colleen: Yes, we need to find the non-suburban model for our bookend population.
Walker: Many of the national trends for these types of developments point to two target demographics over and over: the aging baby-boomer population who’s looking for…
Colleen: Not four bedrooms and three car garages.
Walker: Right. They want to downsize their lifestyle and find something walkable, and an environment that’s easier to get around in.
Steve: I moved to the Corridor just for that reason.
Walker: It’s the “lifelong community” element. And the other end of the spectrum is Generation Y and The Millennials who are looking to have a more tightly interwoven mixed-use environment.
Justin: Those two demographics are exactly who we have in mind. Again, if we go back to our earlier planning with the community plan, we already identified the gap we had in terms of serving both of those population segments. Obviously, we see the baby boomer generation aging but we don’t necessarily have all of the housing products that are going to serve the aging demand. And we already have the gap of the late-20s-to-early-30somethings that we’re not providing with part of the job market and part of the housing market that would really make them want to come here after they get out of college and retain them here. Eventually that demographic may be looking to grow into a more suburban area of the city once they start a family, but we have to get them here first.
Steve: Our consultants told us that we can’t make this plan design driven. It has to be data driven. There has to be a reality to it. Yes, these are really cool urban design principles, but if there’s not a market of people there to absorb them, then that’s not going to work. That’s why we had all of these consultants come in and do all of these studies for us, and do the demographic analysis for us. To give us that data backing for this plan.
Justin: And the connection at the local level to what we see as regional and national trends, in both the demographic and the housing markets is that we have plenty of single family detached housing stock to serve the next 10 or more years. We’re very much just lacking in the alternatives.
Colleen: From a transportation standpoint, Central Ohio is still very car-centric, and I think it always will be. We’ve built our way out of traffic problems. But maybe with ODOT’s lack of funding, traffic will get worse and we will get more public transportation. That would be a dream. Until then, the Bridge Street Corridor is our most served area by COTA. So we already have some public transportation going on there. Yes, it’s currently possible to live in the Short North and not have a car if you work right off of bus lines, but that’s still not heavily adopted in the region. Right now, you can’t get around car-less in Dublin very easily. So to have a place in Dublin where you might not necessarily have to have a vehicle and can still get around Central Ohio and get what you need from Dublin would just be a very ideal thing. Hopefully that’s what this place will provide.