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Plan Calls for Phased Redevelopment of Worthington Mall

Brent Warren Brent Warren Plan Calls for Phased Redevelopment of Worthington MallThe first phase will include an 8-10 story building containing parking and office space. Renderings by O'Brien Architects, EMH&T and Pod Design.
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A proposal to redevelop the Shops at Worthington Place was presented to Worthington’s planning commission and architecture review board last week.

The plan, which calls for building as much as 250,000 square feet of office space on the site, will likely be heard several times by those boards before eventually moving on to city council.

The first phase of the redevelopment would involve tearing down the mall’s northern end and replacing it with offices that would sit on top of a large parking garage – the building would be between eight and 10 stories tall. Also envisioned is an outdoor plaza and two new streets that would run through the center of the development.

A second phase would take out more of the existing mall and replace it with a second garage/office tower of a similar size. Several smaller commercial buildings, as well as either a 120-room hotel or a 100-unit apartment building, could round out the project, depending on market demand.

One portion of the mall would remain – a 55,000-square-feet wing on the eastern side of the site that was more recently renovated and holds several restaurants.

Dallas-based Direct Retail Partners (DRP) bought the mall, which sits just west of North High Street and south of I-270, in December of last year for a little under $20 million. O’Brien Architects, EMH&T and Pod Design make up the design team for the development, newly rebranded as High North.

As the project works its way through the Worthington approval process, it will be watched carefully by developers, city planners and others in the region who are eager to see if it might offer a template for the redevelopment of shopping malls that can be applied to other underperforming retail properties.

The Heights at Worthington Place, an apartment complex built on a portion of the mall’s western parking lot about six years ago, is not a part of the proposal.

Materials submitted to the city by DRP claim that about 45 percent of 138,000 square feet of leasable space at the mall is “economically vacant,” and state that the goal is to build off the work done by the previous owner (with the renovation and the new apartments), to fully convert the mall into a “mixed use ‘live, work, play’ development.”

The new Class-A office space will “bring a signifcant level of new users to the property,” the materials state.

Rick Stein, Principal & Owner of the local planning firm Urban Decision Group, has estimated that the U.S. has 50% more retail space than it needs.

“Columbus is probably right about there, maybe a little more,” he said. “The suburbs are ground zero for the rethinking of retail because this is where most of it exists; strip centers, shopping malls…most have way too much parking, and that can be an opportunity.”

Whether those properties remain empty or are redeveloped into housing, offices or warehouse space depends on a lot of factors, but Stein expects to see a little bit of everything in the Columbus region.

“Amazon and others are going to continue to creep into neighborhoods,” he added. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we see micro-fulfillment being run out of shopping centers. Companies are rethinking what fulfillment is; instead of warehouses in Groveport, these [retail centers] can be used for last-mile fulfillment…they’re already in great locations, close to people.”

The Worthington plan’s focus on office space may not be one that can be replicated easily in other locations, especially give all of the still-unaswered questions about the longterm impact of COVID-19 on companies’ plans for leasing office space.

“Only time will tell if they really need 250,000 square feet of office,” Stein said, adding that some companies may keep employees working from home in the future, or at least rethink the value of having one large, centralized office space for all employees. “We’re not going to have a true idea of what the office market looks like for about a year.”

For more information on the High North proposal, see worthington.org.

A map showing the proposed phasing for the 15.6-acre development.
Streets, sidewalks and an outdoor plaza would replace the interior walkway of the mall in the first phase.
A second office building and other new commercial buildings are proposed for the second phase.
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