The Commons has been open for three years, and after reading various complaints online and in The Republic’s “onions” section, I think a Commons refresher is needed.
As a Commons Board member, I cringe every time I see a complaint about what I consider one of Columbus’ greatest points of pride.
Everyone involved with The Commons has worked so incredibly hard to create a welcoming community space, that it almost surprises me when I see a negative comment.
As I thought about writing this column, I realized that a review of The Commons history and purpose would be helpful for both community members and those most closely involved with the project.
The city’s $18-million downtown centerpiece, located at Third and Washington streets, opened in 2011, but its history goes back nearly four decades.
The original Commons opened in June of 1974, with a
$2 million gift from the Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation and a commitment to pay maintenance and upkeep costs for at least 30 years. The gift also included the famous sculpture by Jean Tinguely, called “Chaos.”
I have so many wonderful memories from the 1974 Commons. Within those odd brown walls, I spent countless hours on the best playground of my childhood, went on middle school dates to the movie theater, used my $5-per-day high school lunch allowance at Subway and Snappy Tomato and awkwardly danced at both of my high school proms. So, like much of the community, I was nearly devastated when I heard that the mall would be closed and demolished in December 2007.
All of my childhood experiences at The Commons had created an extremely strong sense of pride and community within that physical space, and I was nervous that when the building was demolished, my memories and sense of belonging also would disappear.
Luckily, Columbus leaders have always been incredibly insightful. They recognized that a change was needed, but they also acknowledged that completely eliminating this public space was not the answer. They knew that a public space like The Commons was vital to creating a vibrant community.
Through sometimes hateful opposition, our leaders introduced the concept of the new Commons. It would cost
$18 million and was tagged as the “Community Living Room.” At the conclusion of a heated debate that played out in the public, the funding plan was approved. The City of Columbus committed to a $6 million bond for The Commons, Heritage Fund, Cummins Foundation and Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation committed $9 million for new building, and public fundraising covered $3 million.
The new Commons opened in June 2011, and while there have been bumps in the road, I am incredibly proud of our new living room.
I believe that The Commons is the cornerstone of our recent downtown revitalization. If you have been in Columbus longer than five years, you will remember the sad state of the downtown leading up to 2011. It was as if the whole place had been evacuated for an emergency. There was virtually no reason to go downtown.
Today, downtown is as busy as I can remember, and parking is wonderfully impossible.
I wholeheartedly believe that The Commons is at the center of this new energy, which includes busy restaurants, a beautiful downtown hotel and apartment complex, families converging on Washington Street and so much more.
When the seven-member Commons Board was created, it was charged with balancing the following three interests:
Inclusion: A variety of diverse events, which appeal to different cultures and tastes, to ensure all members of the community feel welcome and encouraged to use The Commons.
Activity: Frequent events so The Commons is alive, active and well-used.
Revenue: Maximize revenue to the extent possible, without sacrificing the above two goals.
I know I am biased, but I think these objectives are undoubtedly being met.
Every day, children of all ages run, jump and giggle over every inch of the James Henderson Playground and Luckey Climber. Tinguely’s “Chaos” sculpture continues to fascinate locals and tourists alike. The three restaurants within the walls of The Commons create yet another reason to enjoy our new living room.
But, The Commons feature that most intrigues the adult in me is the seemingly never ending list of community events conducted each month on the second floor. These events include corporate dinners, fundraisers, concerts (both local and professional), theater and dance performances, art expos and so much more.
I truly believe that The Commons has once again become the place where people gather as friends and neighbors to make memories. It is a favorite place to meet, talk, flirt, read, and, more importantly, feel part of a broader whole. It is a place where people display their culture and identities and learn awareness and value of diversity and difference. It is a place where experiences and values are created.
A single space will never satisfy everyone, but the success of a particular place relies on people adopting, using and managing it. I believe that people make places more than places make people. Based on that, The Commons, like the people of Columbus, is beautiful, brilliant, vibrant and unique — let’s keep it that way.
Paige Harden Langenderfer is a proud lifelong resident of Columbus. A former Republic Newspaper reporter, Paige is now a freelance writer and public relations consultant. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.