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Dublin Grows Upward: The Bridge Street Corridor Calls for Urban Development

Walker Evans Walker Evans Dublin Grows Upward: The Bridge Street Corridor Calls for Urban Development
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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.

Page 2: Suburban Competition & Changing the Culture

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  • When I first read about this project, I didn’t think 8000 housing units for an area this large sounded like a whole lot of people for an area this gigantic. But last night I did a few quick calculations. 8,000 units at around 1.5 people per unit (assuming these average 1.5 bedroom apartments for Millennials & Boomers) = 12,000 people.

    12,000 people in 1000 acres (1.5 square miles) = A population density of 8,000 people per square mile.

    Dublin’s overall population density right now is just over 1,900 people per square mile. The average population density of the City of Columbus is 3,500 people per square mile. The population density of just 43201 (which I recall reading somewhere that it was one of the densest zip codes in Ohio) is 10,500 people per square mile.

    So yeah, The Bridge Street Corridor is planned to be pretty dense.

  • Are those 1000 acres the gross area (includes roads, open space, existing buildings), or the net area (only land to be developed).  If gross, it would be 5,333 households per square mile, which would be comparable to some of the densest parts of the city.  It’s just a little less than Victorian Village/Harrison West, and a little more than the Brewery District/German Village, and Old North Columbus.

  • “National developers takes a better look at demographics than we do and they see the Dublin market as being severely under-served for multi-family units.”
    Dear Dublin: Look at the miasma of trash-strewn multi-family-unit living to your east (Smoky Row and Worthington Woods corridors). Look at the eroded test scores and augmented drug peddling at Worthington schools.  And then don’t do it.
    (Or price it *way* high).

  • Quick note that the new Piada is opening tomorrow, 2/3/2012.


    6495 Sawmill Road.

  • John – I’m not exactly sure if it’s net or gross (I didn’t raise this question during the interview), so thanks for raising that point. Either way, 5000-8000 people per square mile is much denser than Dublin as a whole.

  • BuckeyeShadow

    Sawmill Road desperately needs to be bulldozed over and either turned back into a cornfield or replaced with something approaching sound development practice. Kudos to Dublin if they can pull this off, even if they are like some kind of aging parent that’s trying to woo his kids (e.g. Millennials) by talking and dressing like a “cool” 20 year old. Good luck with that.

    Now don’t get me wrong. Every place and every type of development has its fans in every generation. People of every age will almost certainly live in Dublin no matter what it becomes. I just wonder if Dublin’s leaders are subconsciously trying to “one-up” Columbus proper in an area in which it can’t possibly succeed.

  • dubdave00


    Great interview Walker! Very nice to see the thought they’re putting into this project as well as their honest assessments of things like Jerome Village.
    @MO – Not sure how you can compare this plan to Smoky Row. I will say that places like Smoky Row, Riverside Green, and Tuttle Crossing (all of which are in Columbus, but Dublin Schools) may not have the brightest of futures, especially if they rebuild Dublin Village Center. It would be nice if they worked with Columbus to install bike and walking paths between Riverside Green and the Corridor as they’re not that far.
    @BuckeyeShadow – I think you could say that about Columbus from time to time too. And it’s kind of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If they don’t do anything, the perception is “dying sprawlsville”. If they do something, the perception is they’re posturing for the kids. Of the two choices, I’ll take the Phil Dunphy approach. :-)


  • BuckeyeShadow – In talking to Steve, Justin and Colleen, I got a very honest impression that they want to see this type of development for all of the right reasons: economical, environmental and various others. While part of the idea to appeal to millenials, the flip side is to appeal to baby boomers. I didn’t get the impression that anything with this project woud be equivalent to “talking and dressing” cool. This is an “all in” plan that has the potential to radically change the landscape of this area for the better.

    While there is certainly the potential for this project to compete against other areas, both within Columbus and in other suburban communities, I think that’s a challenge that should be embraced. If this is a “one up” challenge to Downtown Columbus, then it’s all the more incentive for Downtown Columbus to work harder at being better.

    Overall, I think the Corridor will have a positive impact on the region as a whole. I think this could be a strong catalyst toward driving support behind regional rail transit. I would love to see a light rail line connect Downtown Dublin to Downtown Columbus and give residents on both ends many reasons to ride back and forth. That type of system would have a much better base of support than a mere “park and ride” system where suburban commuters are expected to ride into Downtown weekday mornings, and back out weekday evenings and not much else.

    I’d love to see this development built out to it’s full potential. Would be a great thing for all of Central Ohio.

  • As a Worthington grad, I’m dismayed to hear about the “eroded test scores and augmented drug peddling.” Fortunately, the eroded test scores don’t seem to be reflected in the test scores:

  • dubdave00: Per the post, comments are in reference to the effects of “affordable” multi-family housing.

    johnwirtz: Worthington Schools are “Excellent” per their latest report cards.  They have previously been “Excellent with Distinction” as their Powell and Dublin neighbors are currently ranked.

  • dubdave00

    “Affordable” is relative and we are talking about Dublin here. You have condos in the corridor right now priced at $260-$320K and that’s without all of the infrastructure and destinations around it. Plus, property taxes in the corridor are higher than Smoky Row, as it’s technically city of Columbus. I think…

  • AmandaKing

    I don’t see any discussion of affordable housing in this plan, though I think the Bridge Street Corridor Plan is a step in the right direction as far as suburbs embracing dense, walkable urban development principles.
    It would be wonderful if some mixed-income rental housing developments could be included in order to open up this positive development to diverse incomes. This would also make those developments eligible for tax credit and low-interest loan funding, which could help bring about the vision sooner in the current market.

  • dubdave00: Prices sound right to me.  I’d be happy if they stayed in that stratum.

  • MO – I’m not sure how a district earns “distinction,” but meeting all 26 standards seems more than excellent to me. The bar charts showing scores on individual tests in the document all look stable too.

  • Pickerington_Kyle

    I love this idea, I hope downtown Columbus can implement more ideas like this. WE NEED LIGHT RAIL. I’m tired of spending 15 bucks round trip from Pickerington to Columbus and back.

  • Amanda – Good point on mixed-income housing. I was thinking about this a bit this morning as I was thinking more about this development. I didn’t raise the question to the planners with the City of Dublin, but the Corridor is primarily being designed as a “live, work and play” environment for Millenials and Baby Boomers who can buy or rent at a higher price point. Meanwhile, this area will be home to a lot of lower-wage service/retail jobs. Where will the prep cook at Chipotle live, or the janitor at the new office building, or even the teenager at the theater concession stand? If those employees must commute from outside the Corridor, will they have adequate transportation options to get to those jobs? If they have to drive, will they have a place to park somewhere in this walkable community?

    Certainly those are issues that can be addressed sometime between today and 40 years into the future, but definitely worth planning for. Probably something good to ask in a follow up interview down the road.

    And if we take this back to the “competitiveness” discussion about The Corridor VS Downtown Columbus (or elsewhere), that could be an advantage for other areas that already have a more inclusive mix of housing options for all income levels.

  • BuckeyeShadow

    Walker — Good points, particularly on rail transit. If Dublin is for rail and can negotiate with Columbus for a line running between the two, they could very well set the tone for projects with other suburbs and for the eventual birth of a regional system. Once people see the benefit of rail, it could also lead to major and renewed support for inter-city rail (3Cs, etc.).
    dubdave00 — The economic factors you named are why I find Dublin’s pursuit of Millennials to be somewhat far fetched, if well intended as Walker suggests. Dublin is a wealthy area and few 20-somethings starting out will be able to truly afford what it hopes to offer them until they are more established in another 20 years or so, even if some of them do find it appealing now.
    On the flip side, with so many Boomers retiring and shifting downward to fixed incomes, some of those economic factors are inevitably going to be addressed sooner by market pressures. Some of those condos are going to have to become subsidized housing, apartments and retirement communities for the plan to have a chance at succeeding.

  • dubdave00

    MO – Why $260? I bought my place in Dublin for under $120 (literally feet from the Corridor)…
    $260-$320? That’s like $1,600-$1,800 a month at today’s rates.
    That range prices them out of the desired demographics (young professionals and retiring boomers) and puts them in competition with the existing housing stock already in or around the corridor.

  • johnwirtz: Worthington schools are excellent, but they are down one classification in the state testing you cite while their peers are not. That is erosion.

    dubdave00: Young professionals and retiring boomers makes a great pitch, but the result is rarely so optimistic.  Adult-only buildings would accommodate that demographic.  Once you establish multi-family dwellings at a comparatively-low price point it’s not long before you’re infested with suburban squalor.  This is not theory.

  • A huge plan, but is there any plan to make any of it reality? Or is this yet another master planning study?
    Also, a most of this looks terribly conventional wisdom. Not that it’s bad, but these renderings look like they could have come from anywhere. IMO that is the big Achilles Heel of Columbus. It’s a city that’s all about doing what you are supposed to do. That’s a big reason why its brand in the market is weak. Contrast with Portland, which set the agenda, and see the difference.

  • johnwirtz said “As a Worthington grad, I’m dismayed to hear about the “eroded test scores and augmented drug peddling.” Fortunately, the eroded test scores don’t seem to be reflected in the test scores:”
    Ditto. As another Worthington grad and someone who was very rarely sucked into the fervor of pep rallies, I don’t see the erosion M.O. talks about.  I’ve tried for most of my adult life to flee Worthington, but now that I have children, I find it hard to prevent my wife from dragging me back to the great NorthWest.

  • arenn February 2, 2012 4:25 pm
    A huge plan, but is there any plan to make any of it reality? Or is this yet another master planning study?Also, a most of this looks terribly conventional wisdom. Not that it’s bad, but these renderings look like they could have come from anywhere. IMO that is the big Achilles Heel of Columbus. It’s a city that’s all about doing what you are supposed to do. That’s a big reason why its brand in the market is weak. Contrast with Portland, which set the agenda, and see the difference.”

    Bam… Refreshing. Seems like you hit the nail on the head.

  • This is a plan by/for The City of Dublin. Not sure why the comments on branding/marketing of the City of Columbus would be applicable to this?

    As for making it a reality, I imagine it’s a little early in the process to provide details. You need a roadmap to get to where you want to go, and this plan is a roadmap. It sounds like OCLC, Wendy’s and other large land-owning stakeholders have been involved in this process very early on, and additional conversations with new developers are ongoing. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some physical progress being made within the next 2-3 years on this very long-term plan.

  • dubdave00

    @Arenn – Yes. A flexible, 30-40 year long-term plan takes a while to plan and implement. They started with discussions of the historic core in the mid-2000s with it transforming over the past 5 years. As a nearby resident, the area has really grown and you actually see people walking around even into the late hours of the night. For suburbia, this is a relatively new phenomenon.
    Last night, the development codes and rezoning issues were approved to send to council. They had a lot of older, typical suburban city codes that made this kind of development impossible. Now that the initial research and market studies are there and with the zoning changes even closer to reality, I think you’ll start seeing more urbanized development in the corridor over the next five years, depending on the economic conditions.
    I hear you on little risk, little reward argument and how it affects Columbus’ branding. That said, I think the market Dublin is targeting, wouldn’t be comparing it to a Portland anyway. Dublin always strikes me as wanting to be more like a silicon valley city / burb than a Portland or Austin. I think they view that as Columbus’ role.

  • Walker,
    I think Arenn probably means the Columbus region in general rather than the city proper.  Columbus’s boundaries, more than any other city I’m aware of, makes it almost impossible to distinguish between city and suburb.  So the branding of “Columbus” is tied to the image of Dublin and all the other suburbs, and vice versa.

  • Yes, I think Columbus generally.
    I’ll take a risk on coming across as an Indy partisan here. (Though I should tell you I am happy to be on record as saying that overall Columbus has a superior urban core, among a number of advantages it has). But the fact that they are hosting the Super Bowl and getting the benefits of all that their sports platform has produced from a branding perspective is because back 35-40 years ago when they started on the journey, they decided to take a road no one else had gone down and stake a claim to sports hosting. I talk about why this was a good strategic move here:
    Similarly Carmel, a Dublinesque Indy suburb, has taken a lot the elements of this master plan type of thing and has actually built a lot of them already. This includes pretty unique and risky items like building a $150 million concert hall. I would never have done that myself. But it’s part of what they think is important to differentiate them in the market. They also were an early at scale adopter of roundabouts, and have more modern roundabouts and roundabout interchanges than any city in the United States. They’ve even rolled out enhanced boulevard concepts for even two-lane collector streets. What Carmel has done bests what any comparable suburb in Chicagoland has done.
    These are the sorts of risky, game changing type investments Columbus (or Dublin) needs if it wants to change the game on its brand and push up to the next level.

  • When I was at Worthington High School, the district received an award for the best Public School District in the state.  I am trying like heck to find the specific citation, but back in the 80s there was no such thing as digital documents and the internet.  So you just have to believe me for now.

  • One Worthington HS?  Sounds quaint ;)

  • cheap

    this looks like a sales pitch to devellopers,not really an actual project.

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