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Column: Let imaginations run wild with ideas for space

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Most people see things as they are. Creative people see things for what they can be.

OK, that’s my definition — and maybe a far too limiting one. But it’s what I believe, so that’s the definition we’re going with, at least for this week’s column.

A case in point is the soon-to-be-vacated Sears store in downtown Columbus and what its future may hold.

For the next few months, it’s still a retail store, but it already falls short of most people’s expectations for a department store.

When you get a Sears flier tucked inside your Republic, it says in small print on the back page, “Availability of items shown in this advertisement may vary by store.”

I should have examined the fine print before trying to shop there the first time. When I have guessed what kinds of products I might find when stepping inside, more often than not I guessed wrong. What I did get from a friendly salesperson was a four-word suggestion: Try the Greenwood store.

Tired of trial-and-error regarding whether the Columbus store would have the products I wanted or needed, I tried using the phone, figuring it would save time and expense of a car trip.

You can call a published Columbus phone number, but unfortunately you won’t get to talk to someone at the Sears store in Columbus. Instead, you get a call center, or a cost-efficiency center, which might be a more accurate definition.

From experience, a Sears customer service representative politely tries to figure out if the product is in stock through a digital inventory search. Sometimes they just don’t know. Sometimes you get cut off and have to start all over again. Most of the time, it’s a frustrating experience.

So the Columbus store-closing announcement wasn’t a shock to me, a customer who’s spent a fair amount of time in other Sears stores, once one of the world’s retail giants.

If the store at Third and Brown isn’t going to sell merchandise for much longer, what else might that location be used for? Reporter Randy McClain asked that very question of many local movers-and-shakers in Friday’s edition of The Republic, and he got some creative answers.

Ideas suggested to replace the 62,800-square-foot Sears store included an arts and performance center, a satellite educational facility and a grocery store. I don’t think you’re going to be able to buy milk, lettuce and fresh Angus beef there anytime soon, but I could see possibilities for the first two suggestions.

But the idea that seems to have the greatest support at this early juncture is a convention center. And when the three key components in real estate are location, location, location, on first blush it sounds perfect, perfect, perfect.

Not only is there a good-sized building that could be utilized wide open or configured into smaller parts as needed, but there is also about 3.5 acres of adjacent parking just across the street.

The Columbus Convention Center, with three “Dancing C’s” next to each other almost as if it were a chorus line, would be a very creative solution, especially with its proximity to the world headquarters of the region’s largest employer.

But would everyone agree?

Of course not. That’s not going to happen. It’s silliness to think it could.

One reason why might be the convention businesses already located here.

One, in fact, is under the same Sears roof. Although most people know it as the YES Cinema, its full name is the YES Cinema and Conference Center.

Its two theaters with permanent stadium-style seating can fit 180 and 150, although about 20 more chairs can be comfortably added in either venue when needed. Additionally, YES can broadcast most events held in the large theater to the big screen in the small theater, which that large corporate neighbor just down the street apparently does quite frequently. Capacity? About 370.

An even bigger venue is 4 minutes (2 miles) away in the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center. It has 11 banquet rooms, the biggest at 8,905 square feet. “Dancing With the Stars Columbus Style” drew 600 people there Saturday for an annual fundraiser.

On a smaller scale, several other local restaurants and hotels can handle some banquet and meeting needs.

But, really, this is the start of a creative dialogue, not the conclusion. What we hear — and The Republic reports — in the months ahead could be even more interesting. I think we can at least agree on that.

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