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The goal to bring 40,000 new residents to downtown Columbus is called aggressive but attainable

The Ohio State University

The Downtown Columbus Development Corporation has set ambitious goals for growth in Columbus. It wants to nearly quadruple the number of residents downtown, increase the workforce and create more green space and pedestrian-friendly ways to get around the area all by 2040.

Some say it is an aggressive yet attainable achievement for the fast-growing area.

Downtown Columbus is home to about 11,200 people. About 20 years ago, only 3,000 residents called the city’s core home.

“I remember a time when nobody wanted to live downtown," said Amy
Taylor, president of the Downtown Columbus Development Corporation.

Amy Taylor, president of the Downtown Columbus Development Corporation. Taylor worked on the 2010 plan to develop what she said were underutilized assets in downtown Columbus.
Amy Taylor, president of the Downtown Columbus Development Corporation. Taylor worked on the 2010 plan to develop what she said were underutilized assets in downtown Columbus.

The group wants to grow downtown’s population to 40,000 people in 20 years. Those goals are defined in the new 17-page Downtown Columbus Strategic Plan.

It’s not the first time the city has set ambitious goals for growth. In 2002 then-mayor Michael Coleman, who chairs the development corporation, wanted 10,000 people to live downtown by 2010. But it took another 10 years to get there.

Taylor said the city needed to address several projects and build out infrastructure to make downtown a more attractive place to live.

“In 2010 we had major assets to deal with, the city center mall, the river front – underutilized assets," she said. "From that came things like Scioto Mile, Scioto Greenways, Columbus Commons, the Scioto Peninsula. A lot of big civic changing projects came from that.”

Taylor said now it’s about making a downtown for everyone. She said they built the new strategic plan with a people-focused approach.

“This time we said we are not just going to expect people to come us," Taylor said. "We’re going to be intentional to go out to folks especially folks that maybe feel like we come to them when the idea is already baked.”

The corporation worked with leaders at the Columbus Urban League, the NAACP and hosted neighborhood focus groups in communities surrounding downtown. Those conversations led to the concepts in the strategic plan.

The strategic plan calls for downtown Columbus to be a part of the affordable housing strategy to support all income levels. Creating a 15-minute downtown to reduce reliance on vehicles and needs for living like pharmacies, grocery stores and daycares. It calls for more green space and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure like more bike lanes.

To reach those population goals, the city will need to close the affordable housing gap, said Carlie Boos executive director of the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio.

"It is necessary for Columbus to flourish as a city," she in a statement said. "The Downtown Columbus Strategic Plan is committed to giving residents what they want: a thriving, vibrant community that welcomes and cares for all residents.”

Robert “Skip” Weiler, president of the Robert Weiler Company which develops everything from residential, commercial, industrial and mixed-use properties, is cautiously optimistic about the targets in the strategic plan.

“It’s an aggressive goal, but I do think it’s achievable. Housing is a crisis in this country," Weiler said. "It’s a problem in Columbus and housing is going to get more expensive and interest rates are going up. Costs are going up so the rent is going up. We gotta do something.”

Weiler adds that the city needs to fill some of its vacant properties. He is a partner in the Kroger Bakery redevelopment on Cleveland Avenue, to transform the blighted property into mixed-use residential and commercial space.

 The former Kroger Bakery building on Cleveland Avenue.
Tyler Thompson
The former Kroger Bakery building on Cleveland Avenue.

Both Boos and Weiler said that passing a $1.5 billion bond package this fall to expand affordable housing infrastructure is a necessity to address the lack of housing options.

Downtown resident Matthew McPeck said another need for downtown is public transit.

“Transit is very well needed in downtown to move around," McPeck said. "We have 13 plus flat parking lots, we’re dependable on cars and that needs to happen to help Columbus succeed and more forward into the future.”

McPeck said more population density will help the area achieve its goals.

“When we have density, we will start seeing more retail and restaurants, which is already happening," he said. "Even more, hopefully a grocery store for the residents downtown. If we are truly going to be a neighborhood for all.”

Projects to support housing near or in downtown Columbus are underway. The Scioto Peninsula is a three-phased project that will ultimately house 1,800 residents, 400 hotel rooms and over 200,000 square feet of retail space. Phase one should finish this year.

The Downtown Development Corporation is developing affordable housing units near Topiary Park by fall of 2023. It will provide 98 units for residents at 60% or more of the area’s median income.

The 2020 U.S Census data shows that the median household income for Columbus is $54,902. The corporation is also finalizing a deal to buy the old YMCA building. The building is expected to be used for affordable housing.

McPeck said there is a lot of work to be done, but it is an exciting time for downtown Columbus.

“I think the strategic plan needs to happen," he said. "I’m so grateful that it is happening to have focus on downtown, the residents and businesses. I love my neighborhood. I’d like to see it moving forward.”

Tyler Thompson was a reporter and on-air host for 89.7 NPR News. Thompson, originally from northeast Ohio, has spent the last three years working as a Morning Edition host and reporter at NPR member station KDLG Public Radio and reporter at the Bristol Bay Times Newspaper in Dillingham, Alaska.