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Never Built Columbus: The Scioto Peninsula

Brent Warren Brent Warren Never Built Columbus: The Scioto PeninsulaRiverfront buildings that were never built — from the 1986 Riverfront Strategic Plan.
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Given the sheer number of development concepts, neighborhood plans, and other types of proposals that we write about every year, it can be easy to lose track of them – some are realized after a long delay, some are modified beyond recognition, and some quietly disappear without ever being built.

Inspired by the recent book Never Built New York, we thought it would be interesting to launch a new series called Never Built Columbus, compiling some of the more noteworthy local proposals that never made it off the drawing board.

What better place to start than the Scioto Peninsula? A recently-announced plan from the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation (CDDC) calls for a dense new urban neighborhood on the peninsula, featuring more than 1,500 residential units, 180,000 square feet of retail, 240 hotel rooms, and as much as 840,000 square feet of office space.

This latest vision for the peninsula is not likely to just sit on a shelf – the CDDC has sent out a request for qualifications to developers nationwide and expects to select a master developer for the project by early summer. If everything goes smoothly during the approval process – and if Franklin County and the City of Columbus sign off on a deal for the land the project will be built on – construction could start as soon as next spring.

That would mark the end of more than a century of planning, politicking, and speculation regarding this prominent piece of land just across the river from downtown.

The centerpiece of the 1908 Plan of the City of Columbus was a Civic Center, consisting of a rectangular mall that would span the river, stretching from the Statehouse to a cluster of equally large and monumental pubic buildings on the peninsula.

1908-plan

Central High School opened in 1924 on a prominent spot overlooking the river, fulfilling at least partially the grand vision of the 1908 plan. With athletic fields and (eventually) parking lots surrounding it, the high school took up a large portion of the available land in the center of the peninsula.

The big ideas started flowing once more when the school closed in 1982, leaving the building vacant (although it did serve memorably as the setting for the 1984 movie Teachers, starring Nick Nolte).

The concept below comes from the 1986 Riverfront Strategic Plan, developed by the Riverfront Community Improvement Corp, a group formed by Mayor Dana “Buck” Rinehart. The plan, which called for residential and hotel towers in addition to significant green space, was described as an “unprecedented professional and civic effort,” involving ten different architecture firms (BOHM-NBBJ Architects is listed as the firm that worked on the peninsula ideas).

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The 1986 plan features full-color renderings, including one of a proposed building on the former Vets Memorial site.

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Also included in that plan as an alternative possibility is an arena that would sit just to the west of the Central High building.

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Another idea from the same era came from local architect Richard Ohanian, who called the Scioto Peninsula “the most desirable development site in the Midwest, if not the entire country.” Ohanian’s written description of his plan for the peninsula actually does not sound that different from the CDDC’s plan – “a high-density residential, office, hotel, restaurant, specialty retail development with cultural and entertainment facilities, a marina and a public park.”

Ohanian’s plan, though, was more grandiose, calling for a total of 10 million square feet of new development (the CDDDC plan calls for just over 3 million square feet).

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In 1991, a plan from Downtown Columbus, Inc (a CDDC predecessor), centered around a large amphitheater and surrounding green space, to be called Columbus Cultural Park.

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After many competing proposals involving COSI, the Columbus Museum of Art and Vets Memorial, the Central High School building was finally renovated and expanded in 1999 to serve as the new home of COSI.

The 1998 Columbus Riverfront Vision Plan set the stage for many improvements to come along the riverfront downtown, including the 1999 opening of Genoa Park on the west bank of the Scioto River.

The 2010 Downtown Strategic Plan in turn laid the groundwork for even an bigger change for the peninsula – the demolition of the Main Street dam and the development of the Scioto Greenways. That plan also presented its own vision for development on the peninsula, a mixed-use neighborhood anchored by a collaborative research center.

Special thanks to the City of Columbus Planning Division for providing access to its archives.

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  • Jeff C

    The amphitheater would have been a great centerpiece to the city. Too bad the Central High School and Vets weren’t reset by about 100 yards.

  • Steve Szuter

    The Hyatt Expansion was never built, either. That was an NBBJ project.
    *But this wasn’t on the Scioto Peninsula.

  • cucbus

    This is a very interesting article. Will you be doing this for other parts of the city as well?

  • Jason Powell

    I’m wishing that Civic Center plan from 1908 had happened. As it is now, the river is blockaded from most of downtown with a wall of buildings. This would have served as a great connection from the Statehouse to the river.

    • JMan

      Agree.

  • jman

    Does anyone remember Capitol Tower on the Wolfe site? It was to be finished in time for 1992 and Ameriflora. We were all so much looking forward to that – and today it’s still a parking lot. It feels like that would only happen in Columbus, but I know this sort of thing happens elsewhere too.

    • Stephen Francis

      “It feels like that would only happen in Columbus, but I know this sort of thing happens elsewhere too.”

      Here’s a specific example of a grand building that was proposed around the same time and is still a a parking lot today in Cleveland. At the current rate and still unable to secure a financing deal, the Cleveland NuCLEus project may join the ranks of “Never Built Cleveland” as well.

      http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showthread.php?t=149842

      This was an old proposal where the Great Lakes Science Center now sits.

      http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showthread.php?t=148969

      • nohio

        Update on the Cleveland NuCLEus project

        • nohio
        • Stephen Francis

          My Replies aren’t sticking around… If this one sticks I may repost the links but long story short, 2 days before the tenant’s announcement, Crain’s had an article about how they were having trouble securing funding and the Plain Dealer article on the same tenant announcement also mentioned that they needed to secure more funding before the project gets off the ground.

          I want to see it completed but the project is still in limbo, even with tenant announcements.

        • Stephen Francis

          Must be an issue with the link. Each time I post it with the link, it refuses to stick. But anyway, Google “Stalled Cleveland NuCLEus” and you’ll find the Crain’s article. The timing is interesting as if the developers wanted to distract the stalling of funding with the new tenant announcements.

      • jman

        Wow. That’s an interesting building.

  • traviscols

    I seem to remember a proposal to put a giant snake sculpture above the Broad St bridge… Does anyone else recall this?

    • jman

      Yes

    • WJT

      Yes! the blue snake bridge!

  • tommy hecker

    I love the proposed riverfront retail/restaurants in the 80’s version. Really wish we’d do some of that on the west side of the river. The view would be amazing.

  • Advocate

    We still need ped/bike bridge over Scioto River – connecting North Bank Park/Neil Ave and Franklinton – between Broad St. and N Souder Ave. That was one of top rated suggestions & needs from 2010 Downtown Plan that has yet to be funded by city. (See above drawing showing 2 proposed). Meanwhile the city is going to bridge the Olentangy River via W. Nationwide Blvd to serve private development.

  • Chas Chandler

    There was a developer back in the 80’s from Cleveland who had drawn up plans for a 50+ story building at Broad and High (where the Chase building is now) but one reluctant land owner refused to sell.

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