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Column: Student presentations offer interesting ideas, then, now

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As I was researching The Republic’s archives for items for the daily Looking Back feature, I stumbled across one that fascinated me.

It was one that made me think about how visions become reality. Then and now.

The item was from the Jan. 21, 1964, edition of The Evening Republican. It explained how graduate architectural students from the University of Illinois made a presentation in Columbus about theoretical development of Columbus by 1980. The design study was a student project.

What really caught my eye were some of the proposed ideas:

Creating a downtown “Columbus Center” mall, including the four blocks bounded by Third, Fifth, Jackson and Franklin streets. It would be surrounded by adequate parking lots and garages.

High-density housing projects surrounding the downtown area.

A second high school, a junior college, additional housing and a library.

A recreation area to the west of Columbus using the flood plain area that is not feasible to use for housing.

Those suggestions made

me think about what became reality and what was


In 1970, the city landed Sears as a tenant in a planned downtown shopping center. Three years later, The Courthouse Center opened, featuring 37 merchandise departments and more than 37,000 square feet. The center was later renamed The Commons Mall and then The Commons after it was redeveloped from 2008 to June 2011.

Parking garages? It took a bit longer, but three have been built in downtown Columbus since 2008.

Housing projects? Well, we have the 146-unit Cole apartment complex, which opened a year ago just to the west of the county courthouse.

A second high school didn’t open downtown, but one did on the city’s east side in the early ’70s. We know it as Columbus East.

We don’t have a junior college downtown, but with Sears vacating its space soon, some people have suggested that some of that square footage could be used for educational purposes.

A recreation area in the flood plain to the west of Columbus hasn’t materialized, but similar ideas were a part of the previous mayoral administration’s vision. An outdoor sports complex at Lafayette Avenue and Water Street was on track to be constructed until running into problems, such as flooding concerns. Initial ideas for downtown sports development included creating water-skiing lakes north of Jonathan Moore Pike.

While thinking about what the architectural students proposed in 1964, and how those ideas played out, I couldn’t help but think of the ideas Indiana University design students proposed for the old St. Bartholomew Catholic Church building.

What might become reality?

The church, at Eighth and Sycamore streets, was dedicated in 1891. It has languished unused for more than 10 years and has fallen into disrepair.

Students presented design concepts at the Indiana University Center for Art + Design, located in downtown Columbus. Two-person teams were tasked with redesigning the building’s interior so that it could be used by either the Columbus Area Multi-Ethnic Organization or an artist colony. Their ideas included a multicultural center, loft apartments for Cummins interns and an international market and café.

It’s too early to tell if any of these ideas will become reality for the church. But I will be interested to check back in 10 or 25 years. That part of Columbus could be significantly transformed, just like downtown.

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