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Wanted in The Hilltop: Creative, Young Professionals

Walker Evans Walker Evans
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Could the Hilltop be hip? Yes, and that’s the image it needs to project to spur an economic turnaround, says Cleve Ricksecker, a veteran of urban revitalization efforts in Columbus.

Ricksecker will share his thoughts on the Hilltop’s potential in a talk Wednesday, May 6 at 7 p.m. at the J. Ashburn Jr. Youth Center, 85 Clarendon Ave. The free event is presented by the Hilltop Business Association and the Westgate Neighbors Association.

“If you’re 30 or 35 and a creative person, you want to move to a place that’s hip or will be hip soon,” said Ricksecker, executive director of downtown’s Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District. “The Hilltop needs to signal there’s a new wave.”

That’s what the Short North did 30 years ago when it started Gallery Hop, an event that today draws thousands of people each month. Back then, Ricksecker had just moved to a run-down Victorian Village.

The Hilltop will redevelop faster than Victorian Village and the Short North, says Ricksecker, who led the Short North Business Association for several years. “When the Short North was developing, people didn’t ‘get’ urban living,” he said. “Today, people understand urban living.”

Young adults are looking for a neighborhood, Ricksecker said. They don’t want to live in Powell and they can’t afford Victorian Village or Clintonville. That makes the Hilltop a strong market for first-time homebuyers.

“No one yet thinks of the Hilltop or Westgate as being at all hip, yet it’s the hottest neighborhood in Columbus right now,” he said. “What happens in Westgate will spread and stimulate the neighborhoods east of Hague. Commuting patterns will help this process.”

Cleve’s advice to the Hilltop and Westgate: Use the Internet to signal a new image. Also, appeal to artists to create live-work space and entrepreneurs to create a coffee shop or “a good, funky gathering place.”

“Pay attention to your best demographic – young people in their 20s and 30s,” he said. “That will be your best source for revitalization. It’s inevitable that things will change for the better. What the Hilltop can do is speed up the process.”

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  • Interesting. Almost seems like there are not enough creatives to fill the mushrooming amount of districts in the city that aspire to renew via urban revitalization.

  • And there’s the rub.

  • JoshOSU75

    I bought in the Hilltop 6 years ago, because as a single person, it still seems that most of these districts that are trying to renew were still out of my price range.  I couldn’t afford anything in Merion Village, Old Towne East, Woodland Park etc. unless I wanted to add a roommate or two.

  • So, do we need more YPs or fewer neighborhoods? ;)

  • I think it’ll be hard for Hilltop to shake the image they have now. Even after posting on the internets.

  • @apocaknits – Maybe if they marketed Hilltop as such to people coming in from out of town, it could work better. I hadn’t even heard or ventured to that part of town until 3 or 4 years after I had moved here – I’d had no opinion of the neighborhood at all. What negative things I’d heard came from Boomer-aged people who also complained about the crime downtown and in German Village, so I took that with a grain of salt. No opinion is better than a bad opinion.

  • At my age I don’t fit the assigned demographic. I’ve lived on the Hilltop for six years though and have seen a lot of businesses disappear, especially the grocery stores when Big Bear went under. Would I support a coffee shop? Hell yes.

  • JoshOSU75

    I think the problem might be that the Hilltop really doesn’t have an image at all right now.  Hopefully, diverse people moving into the area will change that.  There doesn’t seem to be that much more crime here than any other part of town.  Maybe police reports will show otherwise, but my experience living here has been good.  Without a doubt, we need more businesses to open up shop.

  • jawjack187

    I think the Hilltop is on the rebound. The Ashburn Center is a great facility-If you go, you will be impressed. The new Health Center is on the way, and the new Fire Station is an anchor. You have plenty of jobs in the area with the State and other players there. The main problem is the safety issue from Lechner to Westgate. I think our police have a plan. The housing stock is plentiful, if you want to rehab. And hopefully for the Hilltop, they will get a piece of the Neighborhood Stabilization dollars. We’ll see, but I think this meeting will be good for the community. Agreed that more businesses are needed. My grandparents have lived on the Hilltop for over 60 years, and now they have to shop at Harrisburg Pike. SHAMEFUL.

  • We are HAVING  businesses open up shop.  Look for some big changes in the next year.  I know I just said basically the same comments on the hilltop story a couple posts ago… We are a really active community.  Just generalizing the hilltop as bad is like generalizing south Columbus as bad and leaving out German Village and Merion Village.  Westgate and Wilshire Heights are beautiful neighborhoods with strong communities.  They are great places to raise a family, buy a first house, retire.   As our neighborhoods grow we expect there to be spill over into the adjacent not as friendly neighborhoods.  Investments in those other neighborhoods could turn out to be really profitable if the right people make them.  

  • JoshOSU75

    Tigertree, I couldn’t agree more and I’m looking forward to the talk on Wednesday.  I suppose I would be considered as living in one of the adjacent neighborhoods.   I’m north of Mound, south of Sullivant, and east of Hague.  The closest business to me is the former UDF which is now simply called “V”.  (It’s yet to be determined if its run by a carnivorous race of reptilians known as The Visitors.)
    So, I’m looking forward to see what new businesses will be opening.
    Can you give any hints?

  • As a Hilltop res. I don’t think making the neighborhood into a creative, YP, and YF area would be a bad thing, I think it would help. But first before it can give off that image, it needs to give its residents some basic services.
     Services like a local small coffee shop, a tanning bed place, hair cutting services, that arnt on the far end of west board by Target of even as far as georgeville rd. Small little food places, and antiques shops. as for the lager grocery store, I feel that where the Kroger, Target, and Save-a-lot are is just fine, I’d like more small businesses then larger retail chains on the Hilltop end of West Board.
    After the local services have come in, then the neighborhood will not have that far to go to show the great houses, people and area that the Hilltop is. The rest will fall into place.

  • If you’re up for it, there are a lot of ways you can help that happen Jchem!

  • I see home ownership and the affordability of owning a home as the cornerstone of a lot of attract and retain efforts targeted at creatives in this city. I’m not dismissing the importance of affordable housing, but I’m merely pointing out that there appears to be a disproportionate heavy focus on home ownership as a strategy to lure creatives.

    Obviously it depends on the person, but personally as a creative, home ownership is not much of a priority to me. Especially when developers start getting up in the mix and are suddenly a creatives best friend. lolz. I’d add that most creatives I know don’t seem to care much about home ownership.

    If the city wants young creatives to populate a district it would do well to think outside the home ownership box.

  • I can’t imagine a lack of tanning beds has ever held back a neighborhood from gentrifying.

    @jonmyers I think homeownership is a more attractive benefit to the city rather than to creatives, but I think it should still be pushed.  It’s a rare renter who invests in the physicality of a neighborhood (and increase taxable property values) the way homeowners do. Plus, the city does all this marketing work to get creatives here – homeownership keeps them here longer.

  • I am not talking about the lack of just tanning beds, I am talking about basic consumer services that the hilltop lacks!!!! You just can’t bring in creative business without having the basics in place.

  • Not to say creatives aren’t buying homes, but in cities that have been successful that I’ve lived in or visited, home ownership is more of an afterthought.

    Most creatives (especially self-employed types) I know couldn’t even get financing these days if they did want to buy.

  • I understand – tanning beds was a weird addition, though. Smart people don’t use tanning beds.

  • JoshOSU75

    Life would be good on the Hilltop if we had at least one Cup O’Joe, 1/2 Priced Books, Drexel Theater, Video Central and some decent restaurants and art galleries.
    Thats not too much to ask, is it?

  • My aunt own a chain of tanning bed companies back in my hometown. That’s why I added it, she brought one in and then like 3 or 4 other different business opened up in the area. I’m just saying it only takes one of something to help with the area as well.

  • lifeliberty

    I’d be asking for less crime, but that’s just me.

  • What I’m paying for a mortgage is a lot cheaper than rent in the Short North, GV or VV. There’s a good reason to promote home ownership, the real estate is quite affordable.

    The problem being the stretches of West Broad and Sullivant that have little to offer the consumer beyond check cashing and cheap cell phones and do not appear to be safe.

  • JonMyers Says: I see home ownership and the affordability of owning a home as the cornerstone of a lot of attract and retain efforts targeted at creatives in this city. I’m not dismissing the importance of affordable housing, but I’m merely pointing out that there appears to be a disproportionate heavy focus on home ownership as a strategy to lure creatives.

    I think with most people in most scenarios, owning a home is the first step in owning a neighborhood. I can understand why they’re targeting the “creatives” first, as they’re probably more likely to be entrepreneurs and open businesses, fix up broken down homes, and even renovate second or third homes and either sell or rent them.

  • JoshOSU75

    lifeliberty, What crime happens in the Hilltop that doesn’t happen anywhere else in Columbus?  From looking at this map (http://www.spotcrime.com/oh/columbus) you’re only safe in Upper Arlington and Dublin.
    I had more problems in the 3 years I rented in Grandview than the 6 years I’ve owned in the Hilltop. My biggest complaint where I live has been the noisy dog next door.

  • I would love to get as many of you as possible to come out to the Westgate Home And Garden tour to get a more realistic look at what the hilltop has to offer.  It’s June 13th from 4-8 and you can get tickets at Tigertree.  There are rough patches and no one is arguing that.  We have a big PR challenge ahead of us to change some minds.  I think the misperception of crime being so much worse there than the rest of the city is based on the occasional drive through broad st. at night and not actual experiences in our neighborhoods. 

  • kathyhoke

    The Hilltop welcomes good renters, too.  Many of the rentals here have character. The ones I know best are at Chestershire and Sullivant, across from the Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery, on both sides of Chestershire. They are well managed and nice looking.

  • We moved to Westgate in the fall of 2006, and I think that it’s the most neighborhood-like neighborhood that I’ve ever lived in. In the last two weeks, one neighbor invited my son to grow beans in their garden and another baked us a bunch of cookies for giving their car a jump. In that respect, it’s just been way more than I imagined.

    We’ve heard a lot of ideas and seen some fits and starts since we got here, but Tigertree has been a galvanizing force who has helped bring ideas and people together in a way that has me convinced that great stuff is going to happen for the Hilltop.

    Looking forward to Wednesday!

  • Why the insistence on marketing neighborhoods to a small niche within Columbus vs. everyone? Like I’ve stated, there are plenty of people who wouldn’t mind downsizing to a smaller, but not to small, city from around the country, especially the coasts. Problem is, how many of them know about Columbus, let alone the Hilltop? And why are we alienating other peoiple in Columbus who would move here by ignoring them?

    A part of the problem is that this city is not setup for visitors. Downtown is the only neighborhood with several kiosks and there are virtually no signs to point you to different neighborhoods aside from German Village and the Arena District. Then where an area is labeled there’s no way to find it unless you already know. For example, the little commerical stretch of Parsons in OTE has flags which read “Olde Towne Quarter”, but nothing to lead you there. This is very amateurish. We should already have much better, i.e. existing, wayfinding signage.

  • I’ll venture to guess that the reason for niche marketing of neighborhoods is that it’s a whole lot less expensive and way more effective than blanketing everyone with your message. Very few products or services are marketed at an audience of “everyone.”

    The sign project is new – It’s really nice, I think. I would expect it to expand as budgets allow. I’m sure everyone agrees that it would be nice to have the whole city signed now, but there is an economic reality underlying the whole thing.

  • Columbusite Says: And why are we alienating other peoiple in Columbus who would move here by ignoring them?

    I didn’t read anything that made it sound like other people are not welcome in this neighborhood.

  • Maybe there are not enough bike racks on the west side?

  • BetsyB

    I am looking forward to Wednesday night!  I have always been a big proponent of Westgate and look forward to what is to come for the area.  My goal is to one day tell people I live in Westgate and they say cool rather than “Where is that?” or “Is that in Columbus?” 

  • If anybody were to open a coffeehouse in the area, there’s a series of old storefronts at 3100 W Broad St that seems to have a lot of potential.

  • ^^^Yes, the Hilltop is lacking in bike infrastructure.

    Walker, while they didn’t say they’re not interested in other people buying in the neighborhood, everyone else was basically omitted. I just think making an urban area attractive will alone result in a more varied increase in all sorts of urban pioneers. Maybe that’s the group they should be focusing on which includes YPs?

    It’s extremely important that some community-oriented businesses open up. I think that’s why a coffeeshop or something similar out here is in such high demand, at least according to residents in Westgate on CU. Urban Spirit and Zanzibar provide spaces for building and strengthening their neighborhood and I couldn’t imagine the KLD without them. Heck, a book store opened up next door to one of them, so it follows that a business that brings a positive vibe to a neighborhood can attract other businesses. Speaking of the 3100 block, that’s the only option since it’s the lone intact urban block. If they can make the most of that block, however, it could attract development, but the city already shot themselves in the foot by allowing sprawl which will take forever to redevelop into more urban storefronts and residences.

  • There will be a coffee shop and performance space that will be owned and operated by someone you are all familiar with.  That’s kind of all I can say right now. 

  • A Hilltop coffee shop. Sounds like it’ll be worth checking out. A performance space sounds interesting too. The more destinations the better.

  • Matthew

    This was a very informative meeting.  I left feeling excited and ready to participate.

  • JoshOSU75

    It was cool to see those pictures of the worn down buildings (which I assumed were buildings on Broad) and finding out they were taken in the Short North back in the day.  I think most people know the Short North wasn’t always the hip place to be, but seeing those pictures really puts it into perspective.  There is absolutley no reason the Hilltop couldn’t transform into something great.

  • BetsyB

    The meeting definitely gave me a new perspective on the buildings on Broad Street, although I would think the best place for a smaller business would be Hague to Demorest on Broad Street…it would be a dream if someone bought the Foxy Lady building-tore it down and built anew.

  • lifeliberty

    Is it just me or does there seem to be some confusion about what is Westgate(great) and what is Hilltop(not so great)?

    When I think of Hilltop I think of the area East of Eureka.

  • Westgate is part of the Hilltop.  The Hilltop is not as bad as most of you think.  

  • lifeliberty

    I got my info firsthand from an officer working the area.
    I’m not knocking what you are doing. I think it is great and there is a lot of work to be done, it’s great that there are new ideas on renovating this area.

  • JoshOSU75

  • Mike Brown

    There are serious challenges on the West Side, in Franklinton, Hilltop and other areas, but there are also more individuals energetically stepping up to deal with it than in many years.  Some are new to the area and some are of the old school.  That is the only way to reverse any trend… someone puts a stake in the ground and fights to improve their area.  I’m pumped to see Tigertree and others making a difference, the City needs to play its role (especially with safety and fixing up W. Broad Street), and small businesses have to come.  There is a market there of many families who have been under-retailed for years on basics and someone is going to figure out how to make a success off of that.  I’m glad to see this much discussion going.

  • Matthew

    We love it here and are actively looking for ways to get involved.

  • I don’t want to sound too negative about it, but looking at that map, I think that the area defined as “The Hilltop” is way too big for its own good. OTE has suffered a very slow revitalization process which is often blamed on its large size. Similarly, the Short North is a one-mile stretch of High Street that took 30 years to get to where it is. Does anyone else think that a revitalization effort that encompasses what looks like a 10% of the land mass inside 270 is a bit too much at once?

    I wasn’t able to attend the meeting on Wednesday, so I’m not sure if the idea is to break this project down into smaller sections, but I’d say that might be the way to go. Otherwise, I’m really not sure if a new coffee shop on Broad street is going to have that much of an impact on someone who lives off of Harrisburg Pike down around 270. Similarly, a house being renovated in one part of the area is hardly going to have any effect five miles away on someone else’s street.

  • JoshOSU75

    Agreed, the Hilltop is huge.  The buildings on Broad between Highland and Hague going towards Westgate was the primary focus of the meeting.  Because I believe this section is just as far from downtown as the stretch between campus and the Short North.

    NBC 4 was there on Wednesday and here’s their video:

  • There was no specific “project” outlined at this event. It was more of a history lesson about how the Short North came to be, and how the Hillltop can learn from that as we all think about what kind of district this could become and who it should be trying to attract.  Cleve mainly focused on the Broad Street corridor just east of Hague and pointed out its striking resemblance to the Short North circa 1980. It was interesting to hear things about what people in that neighborhood thought would happen vs. what did.

    The scale of the area was discussed, with some emphasis on the understanding that good stuff that happens in one Hilltop neighborhood is good for us all. Kumbayah.

    That’s some of what I got out of it, anyway.

  • I assumed that area was the main focus, as it’s most of what I’ve heard about so far. And I think it’s a very good idea to start with a very small and very focused area (a few blocks). I guess I was just surprised to see that map posted because that area outlined is enormous. Just eyeballing it, it looks like the equivalent size of every thing bounded by 670 to the south, 71 to the east, North Broadway to the North, and 33 to the west, which would include everything from the Short North to OSU to Clintonville to Italian Village, Milo Grogan, Grandview, Upper Arlington, and everything in between.

    With Valleyview and Westgate being smaller neighborhoods within the Greater Hilltop area, I’m wondering if some of the rest of the gray area could be broken down into more easily identifiable clusters and neighborhoods (if it hasn’t been already – I’m not too familiar with some of the geography in some of that area).

  • That is a big area, and parts of it really cannot be revitalized easily. Focusing on a small pocket, one block or two at a time is probably going to be the best scenario.

  • JoshOSU75

    The map I posted is just how the city of Columbus defines the Hilltop.  A previous poster wasn’t sure of the boundaries so I was just trying to clear up any confusion.  In no way does that map represent anything disussed at Wednesdays meeting.  The focus there was definitely on the buildings on Broad that resemble those from the Short North in the 70’s.  I’ll have to update the map to include the Highland Village, Wilshire Heights, and Great Western neighborhoods.

  • kathyhoke

    It’s true the Hilltop is huge. With 67,000 people, it’s big enough to be the 11th largest city in Ohio. Its population density is 20 percent higher than the city as a whole.  Well run retailers do very well on the Hilltop. They benefit from the density, lack of competition and low real estate costs. Ethnic businesses also are doing well, particularly on Sullivant Avenue, west of Hague. We really could use a new sit-down restaurant. The right concept done well could be a hit. 

  • JoshOSU75 Says: The map I posted is just how the city of Columbus defines the Hilltop.  A previous poster wasn’t sure of the boundaries so I was just trying to clear up any confusion.  In no way does that map represent anything disussed at Wednesdays meeting.

    Gotcha, gotcha. ;) Thanks for clearing that up. :D

  • JoshOSU75

    I updated the map (#43) with the other Hilltop neighborhoods I’m familiar with.  It also shows the stretch of Broad (between Highland & Hague) that was suggested for redevelopment.

  • UrbanApplachian

    Why blindly market Westgate to young creatives? The area is charming in a way that makes it appealing to the mainstream. “Young Creatives” are more likely to drawn to an area closer to downtown with a less suburban like atmosphere anyway. Besides, I don’t know many young artists and designers who could afford any of the homes there. The young scrappy art types will probally end up in East Franklinton, the more established in Westgate and the rest inbetween.

  • highlandwest

    Highland West Neighbors Association

    There are people in the Hilltop that are trying to make a difference:

  • I attended one of those meetings. Here are some of the visions the City has for this area: Highland West Visioning Charrette


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