State Auto Lot Approved After Mural Taken Down, Garage Plan Dropped
The Downtown Commission yesterday approved a plan from State Auto Insurance to build a new surface parking lot and plaza behind the company’s headquarters at 518 E. Broad St.
In May of 2019, the commission had voted to approve a new, four-story parking garage on the site. In order to build the garage, State Auto had also received approval to tear down a warehouse building which held, on on its western wall, a mural painted by Columbus College of Art and Design students that is a reproduction of Aminah Robinson’s “A Street Called Home.”
The demolition approval, as with all such approvals issued by the commission, was conditioned on the new building coming in to replace it. Now that the garage is not being built, some have complained about the sequence of events that led to the loss of the popular mural.
Company spokesperson Kyle Anderson said that the change of plans was an earnest response to changing commuting trends, explaining that CEO Mike LaRocco announced at the end of last year that the company would be reevaluating the need for a new garage.
“We were seeing better than expected participation in transportation alternatives we’d offered our associates,” Anderson said, giving as an example a successful partnership with the local microtransit company SHARE. State Auto also started talking with COTA about providing subsidized bus passes for employees.
The process of reevaluating the garage plan was already underway when the coronavirus pandemic hit and stay-at-home orders were issued, and “more than 95% of our associates were working from home within a matter of days,” Anderson said.
“To this day, the vast majority of our associates continue to work from home,” he added. “While it’s impossible to predict the long-term impact on the workforce, we fully expect to have more associates working remotely than we had previously, meaning less of a need for the additional parking.”
Greg Tacchetti, Chief Information and Strategy Officer at State Auto, took time during the virtual commission meeting to “set the record straight” about the company’s change of plans and what he believed was unfair criticism about the demolition of the mural.
He stressed that State Auto had met many times with the Columbus Museum of Art, CCAD, and other neighboring institutions to discuss the demolition of the warehouse and the new garage, and that representatives of those institutions did not register any complaints about the plans at that time.
“We’ve committed to Downtown Columbus; we do not do what a lot of other companies do, which is pit cities against each other to try and get tax breaks” Tacchetti said. “Next summer, we’ll celebrate our 100th anniversary [as] a member of the Downtown community…we feel very badly that the plan that we presented was changed by our CEO – that’s his discretion as the CEO – but there was no intent to snooker anybody.”
Also approved at this month’s meeting was the design of an eight-story apartment building that will replace a surface parking lot on Grant Avenue, just north of Broad Street. The new building will be attached to a three-story former office building that is to be renovated as part of the project.
The approval came with the condition that the applicant return with a more fleshed out plan for lighting and artwork – including murals – along the building’s Grant Avenue facade.
One project that did not get a favorable reception from the commission was a plan to erect two electronic billboards on each side of a railroad bridge that extends over Neil Avenue in the Arena District.
An application for a council variance to allow the two video boards has been submitted to the city, and the commission was being asked to provide a recommendation to City Council – to either support or not support the requested variance. The board voted unanimously against recommending approval of the variance.
Finally, a new-build and renovation on East Rich Street – a proposal that had already been approved by the Historic Resources Commission – was approved yesterday by the Downtown Commission as well.