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Fast Forward: Gay and High

Walker Evans Walker Evans Fast Forward: Gay and HighPhoto by Walker Evans.
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Gay Street is often referred to as one of Downtown’s gems. Whereas many portions of Downtown Columbus are still home to vast blocks of surface parking, Gay Street represents several semi-solid city blocks of restaurant, retail, office, hotel, condo, apartment, higher education and governmental use. It functions as a crossroads of a lot of different cultures, which is reflected in the customer base of a store like Cafe Brioso, which is a daily meeting hub for lawyers, bike messengers, politicians, art school students, entrepreneurs and visitors from out of town.

Of course, the brand of Gay Street did not occur overnight. Cafe Brioso was one of the first in a new wave of businesses to open there, way back in the year 2000, followed by Due Amici in 2003. A big milestone arrived in 2007 when the City of Columbus completed the infrastructure work to change street traffic from a speedy three-lane west-bound one-way thoroughfare into a narrow and calm two-way neighborhood street, complete with tree-lined medians, bike racks and rain gardens. The impetus for the city’s investment was the massive eight-acre development project known as “Neighborhood Launch” which has added hundreds of condos and apartment to Gay Street since 2007.

Between the infrastructure updates and the early residential and entrepreneurial adopters, much of the stage has been set for future growth on Gay Street, primarily centered around the high-traffic intersection of Gay and High Streets. Nearly a dozen individual development projects have been proposed or have begun construction in the vicinity of that intersection, so let’s take a quick jump into the future to imagine what this area will be like when we fast forward just a couple of years.

Nearly 700 New Residents Will Call Gay Street Home

While the intersection of Gay Street and High Street is busier during daytime office hours than it is during evenings and weekends, you can expect that to change in the coming years. Several apartment and condo developments are already approved or underway, and once completed they’ll add a total of 452 new residential units to the area, which would equate to a residential bump of around 700 people.

Much of that development is centered directly at the intersection, with 176 apartments planned in the six-story new build that The Edwards Companies will build on High Street between Long and Gay, and the 65 new apartment units in the historic renovated Citizens Building at the southwest corner of Gay and High. Additional new residents will find homes at The Madison Building, the nearby MicroLiving Building at Front and Long, and at the continued development of Neighborhood Launch, just two blocks from High on Gay Street.

Approximately 25 New Retail Businesses Will Open

Many of the new developments in the Gay Street and High Street area include ground-floor retail spaces, which means an influx of new customer-centric business is on the way to Downtown Columbus. Combined, the announced projects include approximately 76,000 square feet of retail space with a large portion of it centered on High Street between Long and Gay.

The Edwards Community new build will be home to 25,000 square feet of ground-floor retail while The Madison redevelopment directly across the street will mirror it with retail space not only on High Street, but also in a new pedestrian walkway that connects to Pearl Alley.

While it’s hard to predict exactly how many individual retail businesses will set up shop within the new and renovated storefronts, it’s possible that the number could land somewhere in the range of 20 to 25, if individual retail spaces average between 3,000 and 3,800 square feet each. Of course, the arrival of a larger national retailer would increase the footprint of an individual space while decreasing the total number of retailers.

Nearly a Quarter-Million Square Feet of New Office Space is Coming

While new retailers will enjoy the foot traffic of new residents and visitors, there’s also a planned increase in new office tenants as well. A combined total of 217,000 square feet of office space will be coming soon to the area surrounding Gay Street and High Street, largely centered inside the new eight-story 180,000 square foot Michael B. Coleman Governmental Center at Front and Long.

Additional office space in the area geared for smaller tenants will be found at The Madison, and the renovated One East Gay Building, which is where Columbus Underground is relocating its offices this summer.

More Hotel Guests and Parking Spots Are On The Way

Several hotels can already be found within a short walk from Gay and High, and another is slated for the not-too-distant future. Once the first phase of the Madison renovation is completed, a second phase is planned to replace a surface parking lot with a new 12-story building that would house a 132-room hotel and a 325-space parking deck.

If that’s not enough parking for you, we’ll also see the addition of a new 707-space eight-story parking garage at Front and Long, which will serve city workers in the Colman Center by day and the general public during nights and weekends. The new build from Edwards will also contain three floors of parking for residents and retail customers alike.

Gay & High Will See Bigger Events and Better Amenities

While living and working in an urban environment is great, you need some great places to “play” to really complete the trifecta. The Gay Street area is already home to three great seasonal market events: the food-and-farmer-centric Pearl Market, and the retail-vendor-centric Moonlight Market and Sunlight Market events. All three are destined to continue to grow as customer bases increase and footprints can expand thanks to new alleyway improvements.

Residents, workers and visitors in the Gay Street area can also enjoy the recently completed Downtown Riverfront restoration, located just two blocks away, and will be able to utilize the city’s first Bike Hub once it opens in the ground floor of the new City of Columbus Parking Garage.

The Future of Gay & High Streets, and Beyond

While we can only provide statistics and numbers of projects that have been announced or are currently under construction, there’s always room for a bit of speculation about the future.

Many of the surface parking lots in the area will be filled in with new buildings once the current slate of projects are completed, leaving fewer opportunities for large infill developments. The few lots that remain include the one just north of The Atlas Apartments, which developer Mike Schiff has hinted could eventually become a second phase of development if the demand were strong enough and financials made sense.

Just east of The Atlas is the former Long Street District collection of nightclubs and a small adjacent surface lot. If the redevelopment of the old RedZone nightclub property on South Front Street sets any kind of precedent, then we might expect a similar future for the Long Street clubs as well.

Lastly, once the City of Columbus relocates office workers to the Coleman Center, it will create an opportunity for the redevelopment of the seven-story Beacon Building that will be emptied out. The 1956 building could be renovated to accomodate new office users with ground floor retail, or could even see a residential conversion.

Regardless of what the distant future holds for the crossroads of Gay Street and High Street, the area will certainly see a continued renaissance within the next several years due to the collective efforts of new businesses, residents, retailers and developers that are focusing on restoring the area to a true urban destination.

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