Hope Crumbles For Redevelopment Of Franklinton's Cooper Stadium
This is the second part of a two-part series on Huntington Park and Cooper Stadium. Read Part One here.
Franklinton resident Bruce Warner, 80, remembers the early days of Cooper Stadium, back when another team called it home.
“I really, really had a lot of fun at the Redbirds game, but they left in ’54, so I was still a teenager then, you know,” Warner says. “But I enjoyed coming to the games.”
Cooper Stadium was the home to the Columbus Clippers minor league baseball team until 2009, when the team moved downtown to Huntington Park. After the team left, though, nothing took their place.
Warner walks around the castle-like front office building of Cooper Stadium. He points out the weeds that fill what was once a beautiful flower garden.
“A lot of people from all over Columbus came, but a whole lot of people from Franklinton would walk here, come here,” Warner says. “It was a great place. It was a safe place for kids. It was inexpensive.”
Now the area is marked with a sign that warns "DANGER Construction Area KEEP OUT." But visitors can see steal a view of the former stadium. A large part of the bleachers remains, rust staining the metal structure.
“I don’t want to see the building destroyed, the structure destroyed,” Warner says. “But if he doesn’t do something quick, it’s going to die just from neglect.”
When Franklin County sold the property to Arshot Investment Corp. in 2012, the company bragged about its vision. It named the site SPARC, for Sports Pavilion & Automotive Research Complex.
The company’s website still shows plans for the Mound Street property, which include a half-mile race and test track with grandstand seating and several lounge areas. Plans also highlight an automotive research and technical training center.
Franklinton Board of Trade executive director Trent Smith says the announcement of the SPARC plan excited the neighborhood.
“It was kind of a play on words,” Smith says. “It was going to be a spark for the community, a spark for redevelopment, and it was going to be a spark for automotive research. So that spark ended up not being anything at all.”
WOSU reached out multiple times to Arshot Investment and Lion Real Estate Services, which manages the property, but did not hear back.
A sign for SPARC still towers above West Mound Street. A listing on Lion Real Estate’s website advertises the property as available for lease.
“We wish we knew the status,” Smith says. “We’ve been trying to over the course of time, we’ve been asking for comments from Arshot, and you know I actually quit calling them because I was not getting any reply.”
An advisory board for SPARC on Arshot’s website lists 14 members. James Shimmer from Franklin County’s Economic Development office says members haven’t met in at least four years. He says the project has stagnated and been pared down since the state decided to invest in another auto research center in Union County.
“It’s very difficult for a private sector bank, for example, to go ahead and say, 'You know what, we’re going to lend money on asphalt,'” Shimmer says. “Which is basically what the track was.”
Franklin County commissioner Marilyn Brown says the city of Columbus annexed the stadium land.
“When the sale was done, we had hopes that it would be something wonderful for the area,” Brown says. “I still have hopes it will be one day when the market changes and when things for the developer work out. But it’s out of our control right now.”
Neighborhood residents like Smith are tired of waiting.
“Every time I drive by here and I look over I see, because a lot of times the grass isn’t taken care of properly, so it’s really high, there’s weeds everywhere,” Smith says. “And then you just look at the condition of the building and it’s just really sad to know we’re this close to downtown, it’s viewable from the interstate, people coming in to Columbus, they look over and they see this.”