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Five Years In, Is Columbus Commons Meeting Expectations?

After two years of construction, Columbus Commons opened in May, 2011.

Columbus Commons is five years old. The downtown development includes a six-acre park surrounded by residential and commercial space. It opened with high expectations, and we tried to find out if it’s lived up to the hype.

After two years of construction, Columbus Commons opened in May 2011.  Amy Taylor, Chief Operating Officer of the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation, says the old Columbus City Center mall, which occupied the site, had to be meticulously dismantled piece by piece in order save the underground parking garage beneath it.

"The ceiling of the parking garage and the floor of the mall were really one slab.  And so we couldn't just have a big explosion and 'Poof' City Center was gone.  We surgically took it apart piece by piece just as it was built.  And then over the course of 2010 we began the park creation.  We opened in May of 2011 and the pavilion opened in 2012.

A New Stage For Outdoor Concerts
Now music flows from the pavilion on weekend summer nights, courtesy of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra's "Picnic with the Pops" series.  

"You have the ambience of being outdoors in a beautiful green space, with a permanent stage, with proper lighting, and a sound system that really enhances what the symphony has to offer," says Julie Fish, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s Chief Operating Officer.

It also has the atmosphere, Fish says, to pull people to the commons for the symphony's outdoor musical events.  The pops series kicked off last Friday night.

“They can relax; they sit on the lawn with their blankets, they can bring food, kids can play," Fisher said.  And then we actually had the moon peak out behind one of the buildings.  So I think that that type of experience…to hear great music in a beautiful space is something that really draws people to the Commons for our concerts. 

A total of 5,500 people came out this past weekend for the two pops concerts, Fish says. 

Reviving The Downtown Experience
But the park is a destination for people throughout the day and evening with residents in the apartments and condos that border the Commons, business people on a lunch break or out-of-towners in search of a experience like the former downtown Lazarus department store, says Taylor. 

“That was what a lot of people had experienced in their traditions whether it was going to the Chintz Room at Lazarus or going down to the holiday celebrations at City Center, I think people wanted to bring their families downtown - they wanted to bring them to this site in particular - and so we took that cue and over the past 5 years have developed really into a family-friendly program site,” Taylor said.

Columbus Commons is the setting for some 250 events annually, according to Taylor. 

Half Marathons and Green Space
One of the larger events is the Capital City Half Marathon.

“When the Columbus Commons was finished we couldn't think of a better place to finish our event than there,” said the race's founder David Babner.

He says races start nearby and end in a celebration on the lawn. 

“It's something that participants from out of town are incredibly impressed with the backdrop - not only of the stage but to see the buildings around the commons - the way the commons are so well kept, to have that great green space right in the middle of downtown," Babner said. "Folks from out of town love it but the folks in town love it, too.”

Columbus Commons has evolved over the past five years.  Taylor says construction on one of the final pieces, a high rise known as 225 The Commons, will start soon.

“Later this year they'll break ground and then the commons site will have reached its fruition," Taylor said. "We said it was going to be a mixed use development, we said it was going to take five to 10 years, we're a little ahead of schedule, but I think that's because there was a real desire and need in the community for a public space that could be utilized in this way.”

Taylor says the success of Columbus Commons is proof that green space in a city's core is a driver of economic development.

“A lot of times we think green space is such an aesthetic feel and it is.  But the fact that our Picnic With The Pops series draws tens of thousands of people down; that when you have the Cap City Half-Marathon and 25,000 people are down at our park, at Columbus Commons, all of a sudden those have real-life investment possibilities.”

New apartment buildings that border Columbus Commons, 250 High and Highpoint, as well as other downtown developments, received a 15-year, 100 percent tax abatement.