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Market Tower: More on Parking, Public Spaces, and the Case for Going Big

Brent Warren Brent Warren Market Tower: More on Parking, Public Spaces, and the Case for Going BigRendering via Schooley Caldwell.
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Wednesday’s news that the City of Columbus has chosen the Wood Companies and Schiff Capital to develop the parking lot next to the North Market  generated plenty of discussion about the plan, which proposes building a 35-story tower on the site. When Columbus Underground sat down to discuss the proposal earlier this week with the development team and representatives of the city and the North Market, there was plenty of useful information that didn’t make it into the main story. With that in mind, we’ve compiled some additional excerpts from that conversation, read on for more.

The group stressed that a lot of thought was given to the first two floors of the new building, the plaza along Spruce Street, and the public atrium that would connect the new building with the historic market.

Mark Wood, President of the Wood Companies: One of the things we thought was really critical was the way the first and second floor interacted with the market. Our proposal was a little bit different than some of the others in that the entire footprint of the ground floor, and really the second floor, was not consumed by parking, since we’re going underground with parking.

The ground floor of the tower has been designed to be very flexible, to allow the market to take on more or less space, so they have room for expansion. Also with the new plaza, we think that it will be much more welcoming for pedestrians, and a great space for the farmers market.

Steve Schoeny, Director of Development, City of Columbus: It’s important to maintain that sight line from the convention center through to the market — people come out of the convention center, look around and see the North Market sign. They’ve maintained that and enhanced it, making it even easier for people to cross the street and also creating a whole new front door to the market. Vine Street will continue to be more of the back of the house, where cars enter the garages…where the loading dock is.

Wood: The restaurant spaces on Spruce are meant to kind of activate the street even more, coming from High. And there’s even an opportunity for second floor restaurants, with balconies overlooking the plaza. We purposely set back the development to allow for that plaza to be developed.

Also, with the atrium in the middle, we’re creating this public space, a gathering spot.

Schoeny: The atrium space is really important in a couple of ways. One, it becomes much more of a gathering space – today, the market is used as gathering space kind of in spite of itself. It’s very utilitarian…it’s all concrete outside, the route to get upstairs is circuitous.

But this now becomes another great “third space,” and also opens up another revenue stream for the market. They can program it, lease it out, for convention goers, corporate events, weddings, event space. It will be really unique, with a very Columbus character.

Wood: You’ll be able to go straight up from the parking into the atrium, and then there’ll be another prominent staircase up to second floor. And with seating for the market in the atrium, that opens up the space that is currently used for seating to be used in other ways.

Various reasons were given for the decision to go big with the design – at 35 floors, it was the tallest of all the proposals for the site.

Joel Lilly, COO and CFO of Schiff Capital: We wanted to stand apart. We have said we wound’t do this anywhere else — we are not going around building 35-story towers just anywhere. We wanted something that could be seen, and that would establish, that’s where the market is. So the idea started forming early on, really in our first conversations with Schooley Caldwell about the project.

Wood: The first several floors of the building were designed to complement the historic masonry scale of the neighborhood, as it sits today, but we also think that there’s a lot of value to being able to see this tall, sleek building.

So we started with the base, looking at how does it impact the market and how does it complement the neighborhood as it is today? We wanted to activate the ground floor and the second floor, so we didn’t want them consumed by parking. We knew that the public plaza area was really critical to the market, with the sight line down Spruce from the convention center.

Also, I’ve been in Goodale Park many times, when people from out of town will come up to me and ask, where is the market? So the tower is about visibility too.

Lilly: The residential portion is a big driver for the market and of their success, so when you do all of that programming on the first two floors, and with parking on three and four, you’re kind of starting on floor five. At that point, you can’t just do a couple floors of apartments. We also didn’t want to take this whole massing of the base all the way up, so you have just a big block. And once you start setting it back, with a smaller tower, you only have so many units per floor, you’ve got to get some height to it, to drive that scale.

North Market Executive Director Rick Harrison Wolfe: We need you guys, and you need the market. I don’t control the people who walk through the doors — the community shops and buys groceries, tourists and convention-goers do not. People say, oh, having more people living nearby won’t make a difference, but really it’s the difference between our fresh markets surviving or not surviving.

For Doug from the Fish Guys, if he has 100 more people buying fresh fish from him – this is not a Whole Foods or a big supermarket, where they do that in an hour – that’s a big deal for him, and for our produce as well. Hopefully we can increase the fresh presence, having that in front of us.

Another unique element of the Wood/Schiff proposal is parking on the third and fourth floors of the new building that would connect via a bridge to the existing Vine Street garage. The two floors of parking are designed so that they could be converted to another use in the future, if driverless cars or other technological advances renders the parking in the building obsolete. 

Lilly: The bridge from the Vine Street garage, it would be a two-level bridge – probably with a driving lane and a pedestrian lane on each level – that would connect and then you could come across on the third or fourth floors. We think it’ll be great for driving traffic to that garage, where the demand now is high only during the day. It could hold extra parking for our residents or guests, or even in the daytime people could drive over to the two floors of parking in the new building if the Vine Street garage is full, so we can have that fluid relationship between the two. We also will have the chance to put up signage on that bridge, which will help people find a garage that is often missed now by drivers.

Wood:  We think it’s a nice opportunity for some shared parking. We would have used up a lot of the footprint of the first and second floor of the new building with ramps, but that really wanted to be activated.

Wolf: Yeah, I’d really like us to see, whatever that business on Vine Street ends up being, if it’s the type of place that complements the market, allows you to buy things like toilet paper and kitty litter, then that’s better than just a bunch of parking ramps.

The parking flow now is painful – and I take responsibility because we have bad parking equipment – but really, the ramps are already there, let’s use them, instead of having to build a whole other set. And flow-wise, I think it’s brilliant.

Lilly: And who’s to say what the parking needs are going to be ten to 20 years from now? Our plan is that those two floors of parking in the building could be converted at some point, since there aren’t ramps, and we made the ceiling heights appropriate for an office use.

Wolfe: This was the only proposal that thought through that, which I was very impressed with, because things are changing quickly.

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