If the corner of High and Broad is the epicenter of Columbus, then Lynn Street and Pearl Street are the back alley alter ego a half a block away where you can get acquainted with the real culture of the city: ethnic restaurants, graffiti murals and a quirky little farmers market that sells as many cupcakes and energy drinks as it does eggplants and artisan cheeses.
A new proposal from the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District and the City of Columbus hopes to bolster that reputation for this perpendicular pair of alleyways. Plans created jointly by local urban design firm MKSK and local artist Malcolm Cochran call for new streetscaping, lighting, signage and other features designed to encourage additional retail stores to be developed in this area.
“Our goal with the alley is to create a retail enclave that allows for a mix of temporary and permanent retail,” says Cleve Ricksecker, executive director of Capital Crossroads. “The idea is that this alley system would be the Pearl Market 365 days of the year, and further supplemented by the summer market and other events.”
Ricksecker says that the section of Pearl between Gay and Broad streets, and the section of Lynn between High and Third streets is capable of supporting as many as 45 small retail stores through the reconfiguration of existing buildings that line the alleys. Capital Crossroads is working with property owners on plans to potentially repurpose narrow buildings facing outward to allow for multiple small retail bays to be “punched out” fronting the alleys.
“We’ve found that there is a huge unmet demand for retail Downtown,” Ricksecker explains. “There is a supply of retail stores that would like to do business in Downtown, but there’s a dearth of appropriate space for retailers.”
He says that existing vacant retail spaces on main roads, such as High Street, are too large for most independent retailers, whereas the alley concept allows for a cluster of spaces roughly 200 square feet in size.
“That is a perfect size for a startup retail venture,” Ricksecker says. “Once the cost of reconfiguring and upgrading the building is factored in, the rent for those spaces could be $30 per square foot. That’s still only $600 per month for a retail space, which is very affordable regardless of the cost of upgrading the building.”
Properties that the proposed plan is targeting for ideal retail conversion locations include:
- The Scientology Building (currently for sale) at 30 North High Street, which is 20 feet wide and 187 feet deep, which could be converted to 12-to-15 retail spaces facing Lynn Alley.
- The Rick Abraham Building at 24 North High Street, across Lynn from the Scientology Building and very similar in its long and narrow layout.
- The historic building at 20 E. Broad St. that faces Pearl Alley.
- A building at 62 E. Broad St. owned by The Columbus Dispatch, which contains two empty retail spaces that face Lynn Alley.
- The Skylab building at 57 E. Gay St., which has a single unused retail space facing Lynn Alley.
- The Central Telephone Building at 33 N. Third St., which could be configured to have up to 9 individual retail bays facing Lynn Alley, in addition to a restaurant space that is currently unused.
To encourage this type of development, the proposed Pearl Market plan calls for the installation of two types of overhead lighting along Lynn Alley, a long plastic hedge row along Pearl Alley to visually draw people through the space, a small permanent stage for live music events, and a bollard system along both streets that would provide some division for pedestrians and auto traffic, as well as a space for floral displays and greenery.
“The plan is designed to let people on adjoining streets know that they’re passing an area that’s a special place,” Ricksecker says. It’s designed to brand the whole area as Pearl Market and it’s designed to accommodate both the operational needs of the alley and activities like the farmers market.”
Perhaps most significantly, the plan calls for the installation of a large Pearl Market sign at the entrance to Lynn Alley from High Street, alerting visitors that they’re capable of entering this newly designated district. The sign would light up at night and be easily visible to both automotive and pedestrian traffic.
Ricksecker hopes that the new improvements will compliment the existing character of the Downtown buildings in this area.
“Everything we do is designed to maintain the grittiness of the alley,” he says. “We’re not going to turn this into Easton.”
Some preliminary construction work is already under way on Lynn Alley. The raised patio and depressed patio areas in front of Thai Lotus are being removed to help with access restrictions in the alley. The full proposed concept for redevelopment still requires approval from property owners in the area, multiple city departments, the Downtown Commission, and the Columbus Arts Commission.
“We’d love to get the project started in the Summer of 2013 and completed Fall 2013,” Ricksecker says. “But we have lots of steps to go through before this thing is a reality.”