City Presents Plan to Tear Down Building to Neighborhood Group
The City of Columbus is running into opposition from neighborhood residents and advocates as it tries to advance a plan to demolish the former South Dormitory building on the Columbus Public Health campus.
The building, which was built in 1935 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, would be replaced with a parking lot.
The zoning committee of the Near East Area Commission (NEAC) tabled a vote on the proposal at its meeting last night after hearing from city representatives about the plan. Several speakers expressed concerns about the proposal, including Willis Brown, area resident and President of the Bronzeville Neighborhood Association.
“The city didn’t give any reasoning other than ‘we need it for parking,'” Brown told Columbus Underground. “There’s plenty of green space around there…imagine, spending $430,000 to tear down this good building, for parking?”
“The building belongs to the city; therefore the money to tear it down is coming from the citizens,” he added. “It’s our money, and that merits more discussion and input from the community.”
Brown said he thinks the city should seek out a partner – either a nonprofit organization or a developer – to work with to renovate the building for another use.
Columbus Landmarks submitted comments to the committee in advance of the meeting, calling the demolition proposal “shortsighted and wasteful, and…counter to the Near East Area Plan that identifies architectural desirability as the neighborhood’s greatest strength.”
The advocacy group has been trying to draw attention to the proposal since it first became public last month. Executive Director Becky West said that a petition to stop the demolition has received over 500 signatures.
Joe Lombardi, Director of the city’s Department of Finance and Management, said that “the space is being cleared not strictly for additional parking but to also expand the area for larger community opportunities for public health and wellness services.”
Lombardi provided three renderings, which were also presented at the committee meeting, showing the parking lot being used for a drive-thru vaccination clinic, a car seat-check event, and a ‘Columbus Public Health Fair.’ He did not provide a site plan or other requested information, like a count of how many cars park in the building’s existing 650-space parking structure on a typical day, or an assessment of how the demand for parking is expected to change or increase in the future.
Robin Davis, Deputy Chief of Communications for Mayor Andrew Ginther’s office, provided the following statement when asked about the proposal:
The building has been sitting vacant for decades and has unfortunately become a health and safety hazard in its own right. While removing the blighted building will allow for some additional parking, the real benefit to the community is the ability to better deliver public health services. The pandemic has shown the clear need to stand-up pop-up clinics and drive-thru vaccinations, and this neighborhood investment will allow CPH to better meet this critical need. The City will work hard to demonstrate the clear community benefit, and clear benefit to public health when we go before NEAC.
Davis did not say whether the city would go ahead with the demolition even if it does not receive a vote of support from NEAC (area commissions are advisory bodies, meaning their recommendations are not binding).
West, of Columbus Landmarks, said that the city has not backed up its assertion that the building is a safety hazard with any sort of documentation. When asked at the committee meeting for a structural engineering report, city representatives cited a 13-year-old study from Hardlines Design Company, but did not present any new information.
The city has owned the building since 2000, when it renovated the main Public Health building next door and the former North Dormitory building on the north side of the site.
At last night’s meeting, the zoning committee asked the city to return with a full site plan and more information about the current condition of the building, including an estimate of the cost to restore the building.
Although City Council does not weigh in directly on demolition permits, the body presumably would be required to vote to approve the funding needed to tear down the building. A spokesperson for Council President Shannon Hardin did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the proposal.
More information on the Near East Area Commission is available here.