Wasted Space in Downtown: Surface Parking at Gay and High
A series of articles looking at large and under-utilized spaces downtown debuted on Columbus Underground back in 2007. And while some of the spaces we highlighted have been filled since that time and some have not, there is no denying that plenty of parking lots and grass fields with potentially transformative development possibilities remain. In that light, we are reviving the Wasted Space series, and chose for our first look one of the largest remaining “gaps” along High Street downtown.
The west side of High Street between Gay and Long Streets, just one block north of the center of downtown activity (Broad and High) and adjacent to the shops and restaurants of Gay Street, has offered little more than surface parking for downtown workers and visitors for decades.
The area between Long and Gay is actually split in two by Elm Street, which does not currently connect to High Street. The northern section, according to the auditor’s website, last sold for $2 million in late 2011, while the southern section is split into multiple parcels controlled by two different owners. The portion of the lot that has received the most attention from developers in recent years is the one with frontage on both Gay and High, which last sold for about $1.3 million in 2006.
Former OSU and NBA star Jim Jackson announced a plan in 2008 to develop this corner into a boutique hotel, but those plans fell through when financing couldn’t be secured.
More recently, COTA had looked at the site as a potential location for a bus transit center, as recommended by the 2010 Downtown Strategic Plan. That idea was eventually shelved after a cool reception from riders and a COTA study that found a new transit station would not ease congestion at Broad and High as much as hoped.
As for what the future holds for this valuable piece of real estate, city officials and downtown stakeholders agree that its development could play a key role in the future of downtown.
“From a development standpoint, those parcels are located in a prime location on High Street to accommodate a range of office and housing uses, with ground floor retail or hospitality uses,” said Vince Papsidero, Planning Administrator for the City of Columbus. “The new draft downtown design guidelines recommend a minimum building height of five stories for High Street. The Mayor and Development Department continue to promote the Mile on High initiative that seeks to densify the High Street corridor, providing a walkable, mixed use setting that supports ground floor retail.”
Cleve Ricksecker, of the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District, notes the importance of the site from a retail perspective, particularly the potential a new development would have to extend the successful Gay Street district across High Street.
“Diamond Exchange and a vacant retail space immediately west of Diamond Exchange are now isolated by a large, surface parking lot,” said Ricksecker. “The gap in retail storefronts blocks pedestrian circulation west of High Street.”
Ricksecker notes, though, that any new retail spaces would have to be versatile and responsive to the demands of the market.
“Currently, retail operators who are interested in locating downtown are small, independent businesses, much like businesses attracted to the Short North 10 and 20 years ago,” he explained. “These businesses need to be clustered together in small spaces that are affordable because of their size. Storefronts need to be designed initially so they can serve as ‘starter’ space. As businesses grow, spaces can be combined and then divided again as demand dictates. Downtown currently lacks this kind of clustered, versatile space, which partially explains why there are so few retail stores.”