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City to Solicit Proposals for Developing North Market Parking Lot

Brent Warren Brent Warren City to Solicit Proposals for Developing North Market Parking Lot
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The City of Columbus will be releasing a Request for Proposals next month, seeking ideas for developing the North Market parking lot. Although the city does not plan on specifying exactly what should be built on the one-acre lot (or how tall it should be), the level of interest from both local and national developers is likely to be intense.

“It really is a unique site and a unique development opportunity.” said Development Director Steve Schoeny, “You have a built-in anchor institution that’s an instant draw, and something that makes the property very unique, and it’s also in a location that’s just crazy-good.”

Schoeny said that he and North Market Executive Director Rick Harrison Wolfe have been discussing plans for the site off and on for the last three years, since Wolfe first floated some ideas about the future of the market in an interview with Columbus Underground. Developers started approaching both men soon after that article was published, they said.

The RFP will not prescribe use or height, but instead rely on the developer to come up with a program that meets the goals of both the city and the market.

“With the RFP we want to see if we can accomplish four objectives,” said Schoeny. “To improve the market’s physical space, to improve the market financially, to improve the neighborhood as a whole, and to do all of this while maintaining operations.”

“We have this piece of property that we are willing to contribute,” he added, “but if you want to develop it, you have to show how you’re going to take care of the North Market.”

That would include replacing the 130 parking spaces that the lot currently holds, as well as coming up with ideas to ensure the market’s continued success during any construction phase when the lot would not be available for customers.

Both Schoeny and Wolfe expressed confidence that nearby parking options, which include a large parking garage just across Vine Street and the new Convention Center garage on Goodale Street, can accommodate the demand from local customers driving to the market, which peaks on weekends. Schoeny also said that additional parking for any new uses — he mentioned both office and residential as good possibilities — would need to be included on site.

The city has owned the land that the North Market and its parking lot sit on since 1992, leasing it back to the market for a dollar a year and allowing all revenue from the parking lot to be used for market operations. The North Market has called its current location home since 1995, prior to which it was housed in a smaller Quonset hut building that was located where the parking lot currently stands. The original North Market building that launched in 1876 was destroyed by a fire in 1948.

Any new development of the parking lot site would likely involve a significant expansion of the market itself, with more room for vendors and events.

“Our mission is to support and incubate local business, so if I have more space, then I can better fulfill the mission,” said Wolfe. “We have momentum like we’ve never had in 20 years. We had a record-breaking year last year for volume and we’re up from that for the first half of this year. In terms of timing, there is no better time to look at this.”

A major investment in the site and an expanded, reimagined market would represent a significant commitment to the future, according to Wolfe.

“I think this can be pretty special for everyone involved,” he said. “We’ve been on this site for 140 years — to me, this says that we’re here for another 140 years, that you’re going to have a public market in this city for a long time.”

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