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Library Turned Down Offers to Renovate Grant Oak Apartments

Brent Warren Brent Warren Library Turned Down Offers to Renovate Grant Oak ApartmentsPhotos by Walker Evans.
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When the board of the Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML) voted last week to sell the Grant Oak Apartments, it chose a proposal that will require the demolition of the seven 1940’s-era buildings that sit just north of the Main Library.

Ben Zenitsky, Marketing & Communications Specialist for CML, confirmed that the library did receive proposals to renovate the existing buildings, but in the end decided that the Pizzuti Companies’ plan to build two new, five-story buildings on the site was the better option.

“Our Board of Trustees agreed that renovating the buildings wasn’t in line with our vision for the property,” he said. “Our goal with the sale and redevelopment is to provide customers and staff safer access to our parking garage and also to complement the recent investments we made in our Main Library.”

Pizutti’s proposal calls for a new road between the two apartment buildings, providing an additional access point to the library’s parking garage.

In the wake of yesterday’s announcement of a new tax abatement and incentive policy – which is aimed at increasing the number of affordable units in the city’s fastest-developing neighborhoods – some are questioning a plan that would result in the elimination of over a hundred such units Downtown.

Kelan Craig, Director of Planning, Preservation & Development at the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, said that, although he is “excited to see continued growth and development in Columbus,” he would have liked to see the existing buildings incorporated into the development.

“The proposed plan will result in the loss of a majority of these 130 naturally occurring affordable housing units Downtown at a time when affordability is a significant and growing challenge,” he said. “Renovating viable historic buildings and maintaining affordable housing are not mutually exclusive goals, and there was an opportunity to do both here.”

Becky West, Executive Director of the Columbus Landmarks Foundation, echoed those concerns while also making the case for the existing buildings from a design perspective.

“The layout of the seven buildings quietly complements and does not overpower the Main Library, and the interior courtyards provide a nice rhythm to the landscape,” West said. “Regarding direct access to the library parking garage, it seems the buildings as they stand create a barrier to slow drivers entering and exiting – a plus in this walkable downtown neighborhood.”

The plan also drew a response from Melanie Corn, President of the Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD). Many CCAD students live at Grant Oak, which is located within easy walking distance of the school’s campus.

“We’re glad to see more investment in our neighborhood, especially from a company that clearly cares about the role of art and culture,” said Corn. “But we’re also very concerned about the need for affordable housing for students in Columbus.”

Corn, who recently spoke to Columbus Underground about future plans for the college’s Discovery District campus, stressed the importance of collaboration moving forward.

“It’s critical for institutions to work together to ensure that low-cost living options remain available in our neighborhoods,” she said. “I know that affordable housing has been an ongoing concern for the city of Columbus…and at CCAD, we look forward to being a productive partner in that conversation.”

The proposal for the Grant Oak site will need to go before the Downtown Commission before it can proceed, and a vote of approval would be required before the issuance of a demolition permit.

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