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Wonderland Scraps Broad Street Renovation Plan, Looks to Build Elsewhere in Franklinton

Walker Evans Walker Evans Wonderland Scraps Broad Street Renovation Plan, Looks to Build Elsewhere in Franklinton
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  • Sumo

In March, the team behind Wonderland Columbus began the investigative process of setting up their ambitious multipurpose artist studio space at 500 West Broad Street in the heart of Franklinton. Today, they’ve announced that after completing their research, the property is not ideal for the needs of their project.

“We were very enthusiastic about this building, and are still very optimistic about locating in Franklinton with close proximity to 400 West Rich and the Columbus Idea Foundry,” explains Wonderland Executive Director Adam Brouillette. “GCI Environmental Consulting completed a phase one and phase two survey of the building and found the usual stuff like asbestos and mercury — and none of that was too problematic — but we then discovered underground tanks in the parking lot that contain PCB contamination at double the EPA’s federal regulation allowances.”

Brouillette explains that the cost of cleanup was too prohibitive, as well as the future liability regarding EPA policy updates that could cause the group to need to invest hundreds of thousands in additional remediation efforts down the road.

“Long story short, when we go out and look at new properties, we want people to understand that we’re doing our due diligence with the full assistance of NRI, Corna Kokosing, BBCO Architects, our benefactors, the City of Columbus and our other partners,” adds Brouillette. “At this point, with the start-and-stop we’ve been through, it makes sense for us not to rush anything. We’re taking our time and doing things right.”

The next steps for the executive team behind Wonderland is to go back to the City of Columbus and other partners to discuss possibilities with other existing buildings as well as vacant lots where a brand new building could become the future home of the nonprofit organization.

“To be in the kind of neighborhood we want to be in — with proximity to bike paths and bus stops — we’re now looking at the option of a new build,” said Brouillette. “That door has opened for us, and we’re looking in Franklinton for an appropriate piece of land.”

Wonderland does not have a current timeline for the next steps, as it hinges entirely on the results of upcoming partner discussions and meetings.

“The work is still continuing,” adds Brouillette. “We have regular monthly board meetings, I attend three to five meetings per week, and all of our contractors have said they will stay on board with the project until something is built. It’s nowhere as easy as I thought this would originally be, but I’d rather we do it right than screw it up.”

More information can be found online at www.wonderlandcolumbus.com.

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  • mrsgeedeck

    Even I’m starting to be doubtful about this project.

  • Sometimes these types of projects take a very long time. Feels even longer when it’s something like Wonderland that gets a lot of public attention along the way. You’re watching sausage being made!

    In related news, this Grove City development was finally approved this week after seven years of public conversations:


    So feel free to remove any doubts you had about that one ever happening! ;)

  • Bellows End – let’s DO this! (claps hands). Plenty of parking, room for a new build – or save and renovate the old school building PS1 style. Well, anyways, I would welcome some additional artistic neighbors. Too few arts-related businesses open to the public in Franklinton. I’m it right now.

  • Graybeak

    More information can be found online at http://www.wonderlandcolumbus.com.

    No. Not really. This is one seriously streamlined webpage.

  • Matthew

    Maybe they should follow Liz Lessner further west. There’s a whole block for sale on the Hilltop. http://www.kw.com/homes-for-sale/43204/OH/Columbus/2374-W-Broad-St/3yd-CCOMLSOH-213030437.html

  • @Graybeak – I was told a press release was going up on their site at 9am this morning. Looks like it’s not there yet.

  • Coy

    “The organization will ask the city of Columbus for a $48,825 Green Columbus Fund grant to pay for an initial environmental assessment of the 82,400-square-foot property at 500 W. Broad St. The emergency funding legislation will go before Columbus City on Monday evening”

    So, how much more money does the city and local granting orgs have to waste on this until we get that WL is plagued by bad management, poor planning, and has nothing to show for it?
    How many more places can they go to for money when they haven’t produced anything in several years, cannot properly manage the funds given to them, and have shown seriously questionable business practices?
    How can anyone look at this as a good investment?
    The $100,000 plus they have already burned through to produce exactly zero could have surely helped another arts or social org that knows what its doing in this city… we have at least 600 nonprofits in this city that have proven themselves already.

    “We’re taking our time and doing things right.”
    LOL. Is this The Onion?

  • It sounds like that $48k Green Columbus Fund grant was spent on the type of work it was meant to be spent on. Environmental survey work. What’s the difference if Wonderland used it on this Broad Street property or if Wagenbrenner used it on this Broad Street property?

  • Coy

    About 35 years of track record in the business is the first thing that comes to mind…

  • davidhunegnaw

    I wish the WL team luck in finding an eventual home but do think that the team should seriously consider a name change. The Wonderland name was fitting and made sense at the former Wonder Bread building but now that the building is residential seems to create confusion for many.

  • @Coy – Ha. That is true, though my point was that it doesn’t matter who spends Green Columbus Fund grants on environmental assessment work, as long as they’re used for environmental assessment work, right? That’s what they’re intended for, and it sounds like that’s exactly how they were spent. Calling it “city taxpayer dollars down the drain” isn’t exactly accurate.

  • For those of us not in the know: are the environmental studies available down the road for any interested party’s use?

    I think the chief complaint is the lack of tangible production. There are no shortage of organizations in this city that have started off with little fanfare, have grown organically over time through the passion of its users and base and have earned the attention. Wonderland has pretty much failed at this.

    I remember buying a bike at Third Hand way back when it was little more than a shed in some guy’s backyard and I can remember taking a welding class at CIF back at the tiny, cramped space on Leonard.

  • Isn’t the intent of environmental assessment grants for the land to actually be developed? It makes sense for the city to pay if that’s the end outcome. But if the city pays, and the developer then says “no thanks,” we just lost all public benefit of the grant. I think these grants should be contingent on eventual development – and at least a portion charged back to the developer if they decide not to move forward.

  • I’m no expert on this topic, so perhaps we can find someone else who can chime in, but I’m under the impression that environmental studies are attached to individual properties/parcels. So regardless of who wants to develop that site, the work needs to be completed, and now it’s completed (though I’m not sure how long the study is good for before it would need to be re-studied). If a different entity wants to step in to develop that site, they can go straight to remediation.

    I’m sure the intent of environmental assessment grants is always for the land to be developed, but when you’re searching for the unknown, you’re likely to always have some percentage of results come back that are too cost prohibitive for the developer to continue forward with immediately.

    It’s probably also worth pointing out that the timeline between assessment, cleanup and development is sometimes years in the making. I recall some of the various urban redevelopment efforts around Columbus sitting dormant for long periods of time in between phases. Some of Wagenbrenner’s projects (they do a lot of brownfield cleanup work) come to mind… the Timken Site, the Kaplin Site, etc. These things never happen as quickly as we would all love them to.

    Obviously, the easier choice is to just build a new building on a cornfield in the exurbs. That way we can “waste taxpayer dollars” on new roads and utilities rather than on industrial contamination assessment and site cleanup. ;)

    Anyway, to bring this back around to WL, it’s disappointing that this building didn’t work out, as I personally thought it could be a good location for them, and a good thing for Franklinton. It’s fine for people to be skeptical of the project, but if/when WL comes online, it will be a positive asset for Columbus.

  • Coy

    I think all the key points have been touched on here, with the timing of the assessment and cleanup, as well as the actual capacity of the org involved to follow through critical arguments.

    I would assume that, among other several key points, one reason that the city doesn’t just use it’s own money to do these assessments in areas of possible development on it’s own is that there is a timeline for how long they are valid.
    An assessment that doesn’t get acted on is going to be useless in say, two years, for instance.

    Giving the money to a mismanaged arts org that likely doesn’t have the capacity, time, willingness, or expertise to deal with anything more than the simplest of cleanups is just a bad investment on the city’s part. You said it yourself Walker, these kind of (re)developments take time and know how, which is why I was against giving the money for this to WL in the first place… this result is not the least bit surprising.

    And so much keeps getting thrown at WL, while places like 400 W Rich and Dudelocker (especially) have been at it and doing well all along.

  • As a former commercial lender who spent almost 30 years in the banking world, I can tell you that no bank will accept an environmental assessment that is more than 12 months old. If there are environmental issues that need remediation, a current assessment would be required before any bank would extend financing using said property as collateral. The bank also would probably have the expectation that the environmental assessment was paid for through grant funds like the ones used in this case or paid cash by the potential buyer of the real estate (as opposed to being paid for with loan proceeds.)

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