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Critics Of North Market Plan Say "Sore Thumb" Would Mar Short North

City of Columbus
An artist's rendering of the 35-story tower that will overshadow the North Market.

More than a month after the ambitious proposal was unveiled, critics of a plan to replace the North Market parking lot with a 35-story mixed-used building got a chance to gripe to city leaders and developers at a community forum on Tuesday.

Rick Harrison Wolfe, head of the North Market Development Authority, told the crowd that the market has struggled through the years to stay financially afloat. He said the high rise would bring much-needed stability.

"The main goal was perpetuity – how could this market be here forever," Wolfe said. "And that’s by us controlling our own destiny. And part of this project and how it will shake out is that the market will be in control of the building and the public space. So that means, we control our own destiny."

Project architect Robert Loversidge said the building’s residential spaces would help.

"The way to support the market is to put residences on top of the market or next to the market," Loversidge says.

The North Market has long attracted people with its mix of quaint shops and world-spanning restaurants. But from an investment standpoint, the parking lot is prime real estate—sandwiched between the Short North and the Arena District—and is under-utilized.

If built as proposed, the skyscraper would include a mix of residential, retail and restaurant space, and feature a two-story atrium connecting it to the market. Construction crews would also add an underground parking garage.

Tuesday's meeting was the first of several, according to Columbus’ director of development Steve Schoeny, to gauge public reaction. He said the city wants to know what people like and don’t like about the design. 

The city got just that. The meeting attracted several concerned residents, including Harold Moellering, who said the skyscraper was completely out of character for the neighborhood.

"It’s grossly out of proportion," Moellering said. "It will swamp out the Market in terms of the way it looks. I mean literally it looks like a sore thumb."

While city leaders say the tower will buoy the market for decades to come, Moellering worried how the North Market’s tenants would survive during the construction phase of the project.

"With all the equipment you’re going to have around here it will be very easy to swamp these vendors out," Moellering says. "They don’t have deep pockets, they could easily have their business decline to the point that there business is not economic anymore and then the market goes under. And this market has been going in three different buildings on this site since 1876, so there is some real history here."

And Moellering said he didn’t see how the Short North's narrow streets would accommodate increased traffic.

"After construction, there is concern about traffic that this thing will generate," Moellering says. "Traffic on Front and Vine and Spruce is very tight the way it is, and now you’re building this big building and that’s going to generate much more traffic. You can’t make the streets bigger."

Another attendee, David Karlak, expressed concerned about the bodies that remained in the area from the Old North Graveyard, which opened in 1813 and finally closed in the 1870s.

"You can’t get more historical than the North Graveyard in Columbus," Karlak said. "I mean, what else remains that was constructed in 1813?"

Karlak said he had an ancestor that was probably still buried in the area and that she deserved a respectful exhumation and reburial. But he says he doubted that would happen.

"I’m just concerned at some point, like they did at Union Station, they’re going to come in there at 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning when everything’s closed and bulldoze the hell out of the place and load it all into dump trucks and put it at some undisclosed landfill," Karlak worried. "That’s a real possibility, and Columbus has a history of that kind of thing."

Development director Schoeny has indicated that any remains found will be handled with dignity, following established archeological procedures.

Construction is set to begin in 2018.