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Pearl Alley Facelift Proposed for 2013

Walker Evans Walker Evans Pearl Alley Facelift Proposed for 2013
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Rendering of proposed updates to Pearl Alley facing south from Gay Street.

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.”

Rendering of proposed updates to Pearl Alley facing north from Broad Street.

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.”

Rendering of proposed Pearl Market signage facing High Street from Lynn Alley.

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.”

Rendering of proposed Pearl Market signage facing High Street from Lynn Alley.

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  • OddTodd

    Love the idea – Not sure about the “hands” holding up the sign however. Over all this is some thing would be very welcomed by the area and community.

  • YES please! That looks awesome!!

  • Analogue Kid

    Agree the hands are creepy but everything else looks great!

  • staindson7

    Bring it on! I know as someone who works downtown and lives close by, I’d love to see more retail and turning our downtown into something even more charming and interesting!

  • Stephen43215

    This would definitely make for a intimate atmoshphere in the evening hours with the alley being narrow. I also love the idea of lights being strung above the alley!

  • Mandy Henderson

    Ha, so this is what it takes to bring retail downtown after city center– sweet stalls for startups in a gritty alley! :)

    No really I love it.

  • bferriot

    “a long plastic hedge row along Pearl Alley to visually draw people through the space”

    Plastic? Really?

    I think the overall plan is great, though. I’m always drawn down Pearl to the market, but never drawn onto Lynn. I like the idea of cutting the bowling alley properties into small retail shops – we need more walkable, less car-centric spaces downtown. Parking meters on High is a bandaid between the city and small business owners until we get more dense urban living and more mutli-modal transit.

  • columbusmike

    I was walking down the alley last week and was shocked that something like this hasn’t happened already. Good for Columbus!

    But yes, the !!!plastic!!! hedges and creepy hand sign need some thought….

  • Cbusbill

    LOVE IT!!!

    Our downtown needs this type of quirky, hyper-local attraction to help rebuilt the tapastry of blending office/residential/retail that has been lost for so long.

    I know there is talk/plan of moving the COTA bus depot on High St. that sits right in front of where the sign would be placed…wonder if that is moving forward? That would definitely need to happen to accomodate this plan, otherwise no one will ever see the sign or landscaping…it would be hidden behind buses.

  • @bferriot – My understanding is that a live hedgerow was proposed but there wasn’t resources/staff/money to allocate to maintaining it. The plastic hedge was proposed by the artist as something still visually distinct and with an artistic flare while remaining low cost on the maintenance side.

    I was skeptical when I first heard that, but I think it could work well as an artistic piece.

  • @cbusbill – The Pearl Market sign faces High at Lynn, between Broad & Gay. There’s already no bus stop there.

  • MHJ

    I agree with columbusmike — I’m surprised this hasn’t happened already, and I love that they’re trying to make this happen. That would be a great addition to the area and draw in lots of people from the surrounding office buildings. There are already a couple of bars in the alley area, too.

  • annette

    Not convinced that the signage “maintains the grittiness” of the alley. Overall, looks like an exciting plan, though!

  • Coy

    That plastic hedge will do nothing but narrow the alley.
    Now think about what its already like trying to get through there on during Independents Day…
    Also, I don;t want to lose motorcycle parking!

  • heresthecasey

    The city/SID can’t afford a real hedge? How much maintenance could that possibly require??

  • DR

    Agreed that the hands are creepy. Have you guys ever seen faux boxwoods (Plastic Hedge) in use? It looks amazing. They use it everywhere in LA and Miami. Divides patio space at Lincoln Road mall in South Beach. You honestly can’t tell that it is not real.

  • Mandy Henderson

    Sounds like we need philanthropic donors/volunteers to buy/pay for maintenance of a real hedge. I’ll bet the artist originally wanted a real one but budgets are real too.

    “It’s a real hedge! Because we’re worth it!”

  • buckette13

    Wonder what it would be like to work in a plastic hedge factory. That is one awful idea.

  • It might be kind of nice to have some year-round greenery, even if fake. A live hedge during November through March it would just look like a wall of sticks.

  • Anyway, the hedge is just one small detail in this much larger proposal. The real meat of this project is the effort to get building owners to reconfigure retail spaces and the 40+ new retail shops that could come out of it.

  • jpizzow

    Kind of resembles the initiative the city of Melbourne Australia took to revive their alleys. What were once dead spaces are now major attractions and gathering points within downtown. This is great news. I love it when news this big comes out of nowhere.

  • Likes Old Houses

    I am all for sprucing up the alley but I would rather see the retail storefront efforts on High Street. I though the idea of getting the busses off High, and adding the parking meters, was to give those storefronts more visibility. Storefronts in an alley don’t make a lot of sense to me.

  • The quote of $30/sq ft for 200 square foot of retail space would actually put the lease at $500/mo. So if they estimate rent at $600/mo., it’s more like $36/sq ft.

    Love the idea, but you can get twice the space for the same price elsewhere. I get that this could be a “premium” location, but that is still a steep price for start ups. My point being that risk should be taken on both sides of the coin here. Start ups take the risk of opening a new business, property owners should take the risk of offering lower rents to help facilitate retail growth. Once the concept proves itself successful and established, full market value can be attained.

    Give me 200 sq ft for $350/mo. and I’d consider it.

  • This looks like a really good idea to me. I only hope that putting in a bunch of retail in the alley doesn’t detract from adding retail on the streets. It sounds like it’s two different markets for space though. Maybe if this brings more people to the area, it will actually help retail on High St too.

  • readysetdisco

    sounds great, looks great. but the sign doesn’t read “gritty”, it reads “Easton”

  • mrpoppinzs

    I have to echo that I would rather see permanent retail store fronts on High Street even if they need to break up the spaces more. I like the alley for the temporary market, but would rather they put the effort into bringing retail back to the main streets.

  • Mandy Henderson

    …Not to dwell, but a hedge is usually made of boxwood or yew, both of which are evergreen.

    Aaaand if all else fails, if you look out the window right now chances are that cursed honeysuckle is still lookin’ leafy (but don’t plant it because it sucks)


  • hdtvohio

    not bad. Hopefully these changes will allow the businesses not named Tip Top and Due Amici to stay open later! I would love El Arapezo opened for more hours!

  • jpizzow

    I think some people are missing the point and the target market for these retail spaces. The vacant spaces on High St. are larger spaces, thus they appeal to a different type of business, those which demand a larger consumer base. Downtown can only support a few of those larger businesses at this time. These smaller spaces are for “startups”, those who are just trying to get their name out there by selling specific items and serving niche markets, i.e. art studio, photography…..could be a thousand different things. It makes for a retail district of very specialized vendors. If a vendor’s product brings in good sales and there is need for expansion, then maybe they can take a look at a larger space on High St. The North Market acts in a similar way. Many of those vendors make a name for themselves and move on opening businesses in larger spaces. It will be interesting to see how this pans out, whether it will be fully embraced or not. Hope so.

  • @Mandy – Thanks for the botany lesson. ;) An evergreen hedge would work well.

    @LinerNotes – I don’t think the numbers Cleve cited were at all definitive. I think he gave an example (thanks for correcting the math) just to illustrate that a higher price per square foot broken down into smaller space could both be an affordable rate for a startup *and* appealing to a building owner who needs to invest money up front into renovations. No clue what the final sizes and price ranges might actually be, but I’m sure it would be competitive if they would expect it to work.

  • OddTodd

    @Walker – Agreed that the hedge is something that is just a small part of the big picture, but as long as we are all chatting about it… Some vertical planting would be awsone. Even ivy that would hold up the weather.

  • gregcols

    I am kind of liking the hands !!! Gives it an artsy feel….

  • gocrewman

    The 40+ retail shops is not going to happen. The buildings along the alley are narrow and deep. The measurements he mentioned on 30 N High St gave 3700 sq ft that includes two staircases, lobby and elevator sqft. Lets just set 10ft of wide space for a vendor and 15 feet deep..that would give 12 retail shops at10x15 or 150 sq ft each..Is that enough for a start up?

  • There are three long/narrow buildings that are being recommended for that conversion along with a handful of other buildings with existing retail spaces (former Lynnalley’s, Jack’s Diner, etc). I don’t think the recommendation was for 40 new spaces, but a total of 40 spaces new and old, give or take.

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