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Experts Weigh in on Possible Crew Stadium Locations

Brent Warren Brent Warren Experts Weigh in on Possible Crew Stadium LocationsRendering via Rogers Krajnak Architects and 801 Creative.
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Since the news broke last fall that the Columbus Crew SC owner Precourt Sports Ventures (PSV) was considering moving the team to Austin, the story has taken many twists and turns. Although the final outcome is still unknown – and may not be resolved for some time – recent developments suggest that there could be reason for cautious optimism from Crew supporters.

UPDATE (10/12/18) – The Crew SC are Likely to Stay in Columbus

We thought now would be a good time to take a closer look at various sites around Columbus that have been mentioned as possibilities for a new stadium. Here’s a brief run-down:

  • Dodge Park (Franklinton) – The city-owned parcel that holds a recreation center, swimming pool and skateboard park is a little over 18 acres, but adjacent land owned by the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) and the Ohio Department of Transportation could potentially add another eight acres to the total. The CMHA land is slated to be developed eventually as a future phase of the River & Rich project, which is currently under construction.
  • Lou Berliner Sports Park (Southwest Columbus) – A huge site currently used mostly for softball fields, it sits across the Scioto River from the Brewery District and Merion Village.
  • Mapfre Stadium (Ohio Expo Center and Fairgrounds) – The current home of the Crew SC takes up about 15 acres (that includes the stadium and a small amount of green space surrounding it, as well as the buildings containing the ticket booths). Many more acres of state-owned surface parking surround the stadium, as well as some privately-owned land south of Hudson Street.
  • 560 W. Nationwide Blvd. (Downtown) – At one time slated to hold a casino, Nationwide Realty Investors (NRI) bought the roughly 20-acre site in 2011. Although NRI has not released any formal plans for the land, they’ve indicated in the past that some type of residential development is the most likely use for the site. — Update (August 2018): Grassroots organizers at #SaveTheCrew have released renderings of their idea of what a stadium could look like at this location.
  • 468 W. Nationwide Blvd. (Downtown) – This was floated as a potential stadium site by Schottenstein Real Estate Group, but nothing came of that plan. Although the two parcels that were being eyed for development totaled 20 acres, the railroad tracks running between them would have made it tough to fit a stadium in.
  • Scioto Peninsula (Franklinton) – A conceptual plan for 21 acres of publicly-owned land west of COSI was unveiled last February, and was further refined when a developer for the project was selected in December. A soccer stadium is not part of that plan, which call for office space, retail, and over 2,500 new residents on the site.
  • Abbott Laboratories site (Downtown) – Clocking in at over 25 acres, a plan for this site was floated by Columbus Foundation president Doug Kridler in November but then walked back the next day. It is located east of North Fifth Street and north of Mt Vernon Avenue, and is currently used for parking and truck storage.
  • Others – dark horse candidates include Cooper Stadium, the Jeffrey Park site, and Westland Mall.

In a letter to Major League Soccer (MLS) and PSV, Mayor Andrew Ginther specifically mentioned the three publicly-owned sites – Berliner Park, Dodge Recreation Center, and the Ohio Expo center. That letter also referenced “a number of feasible privately-owned spaces Downtown that could be sites for a new stadium,” and said that, “for all of these options, we would partner with private developers to turn the surrounding area into an entertainment district with restaurants, bars and attractive streetscapes.”

Columbus Underground recently reached out to some local urban planners and real estate experts, soliciting opinions on the pros and cons of each site. Overall, the Dodge Park site was probably viewed the most favorably, and the Berliner site the least favorably. The current stadium location, however, made a surprisingly strong showing; many see the potential for a larger redevelopment of the site.

“In my opinion, the Dodge Recreation Center represents the best opportunity for keeping the Crew in Columbus,” said Rob Vogt, Managing Partner of Vogt Strategic Insights. “I think the Crew ownership was looking for a walkable site close to the central business district (and) this comes closest to meeting those requirements.”

That location would also provide Downtown views, proximity to bars and restaurants, and a new stadium there would help to “stimulate more redevelopment in West Franklinton (East Franklinton is already well on its way),” he said.

Berliner Park — photo via City of Columbus Recreation & Parks.

Vogt put Berliner Park last on his list, citing its lack of walkability or nearby amenities.

Jason Sudy, Principal at OHM Advisors, also sees potential in the Dodge Park site, but expressed some concerns; “Franklinton is underserved with parks, and increasing residential development near this site could create a real renaissance in usage for Dodge.”

As for the current stadium site, Sudy said he is intrigued by the redevelopment possibilities.

“This whole corridor is ripe for a reinvention…with the fairgrounds, the historical center and the stadium, this is a collection of uses without cohesion or a collaborative identity,” he said. “Creating a completely new redevelopment approach could be exciting, if the true connections to the campus community could be made.”

He said upgrades to 11th and 17th avenues would be the first step in any effort to improve those connections, but there are other ways to link the neighborhood to the site; “maybe Woodruff Avenue (which turns into 19th Avenue) gains some extra importance as a method to cross over the rail corridor, and becomes a central organizing element for the site north of the fairgrounds.”

The area around Mapfre Stadium, image via Google Maps.

Josh Lapp, Principal of Designing Local and a Transit Columbus board member, said that it’s important to view each of the sites through the lens of their accessibility to transit.

“I think one of the biggest issues with the current site as well as one or two of the other proposed sites is the lack of decent transit access,” he said.

While quick fixes for the current site – like a COTA shuttle modeled off the service provided for OSU football games – would help, Lapp prefers to take a big-picture view, seeing the adjacent railroad tracks not as a barrier but as a huge opportunity.

“Ideally the construction of a light rail line in the existing rail corridor could take place, which would create a great connection to the rest of the region and allow for a true urban redevelopment,” he said.

“There are ample opportunities for urban redevelopment projects in the area adjacent to the stadium, even the land that is privately owned,” Lapp added. “If it can be successful in Dublin it could be successful in this location, which is in the urban core.”

Although MLS has emphasized its preference for stadiums either close to Downtown or in lively urban neighborhoods, Mapfre Stadium sits less than four miles from the center of Downtown (Guerrero Park, one of the front-runners in Austin, is a similar distance from that city’s capitol building).

The current stadium site is also adjacent to the University District, which – although separated by the aforementioned railroad tracks – is the most densely populated neighborhood in Columbus.

A couple of the privately-owned sites also merited mention from our experts.

“The NRI site is better (in terms of access),” said Lapp, “but is still not near any transit lines, has limited entrances and exits and it’s a bit of a walk from Neil and certainly High.” (It would have great access to the Olentangy Trail, though, after a planned bike and pedestrian bridge is built).

“I was interested when the un-vetted suggestion for the Abbott site got floated as an option,” said Sudy. “I look out at that area from the office every day, sharing the general frustration over its enormous underutilized potential.”

Sudy added that a stadium at the Abbott site could utilize nearby parking facilities – along Long and Spring streets, and also on the Columbus State campus – that are more likely to be empty in the evening and on weekends.

“With rapid shifts in mobility on the horizon, let’s diminish on-site parking as the key consideration for site selection,” he added. “Autonomous and connected vehicles will shift the way we access all urban districts, and particularly large event venues.”

Stay tuned to Columbus Underground for updates on the future of the Crew in Columbus, and be sure to leave a comment if you think we missed a potential stadium site.

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