Never Built Columbus: The Scioto Peninsula
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.
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).
The 1986 plan features full-color renderings, including one of a proposed building on the former Vets Memorial site.
Also included in that plan as an alternative possibility is an arena that would sit just to the west of the Central High building.
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).
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.
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.