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Commons history 2003

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Editor's Note: As part of a commemorative section on the grand reopening of The Commons, we compiled clips from some of the most important stories about The Commons in our electronic library. Here are some of the highlights from 2003.

February 1, 2003

Commons limits parking: Parking in mall's west lot banned except to shoppers and those who pay monthly fees

The Commons Mall owners have restricted parking in the lot west of the mall — likely fueling the debate about the downtown parking crunch.

Customers and mall tenants may use the lot at any time free of charge, but others will have to obtain a monthly permit for $30 to use the lot between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Sharon Renfro, who owns the mall with her husband, Herman, said the move is a result of Sears officials telling her that some customers had trouble finding parking spaces, and people asking whether they could pay a fee to be guaranteed a parking spot.

In September, when Mac's Convenience Stores LLC moved into the mall, the Renfros reserved for the company's employees 75 spaces in the lot west of the Bartholomew County Courthouse.

Renfro said that forced some employees of downtown government agencies and businesses to park in the lot west of Sears.

Though the owners have tried to restrict access to some lots, parking remains a problem.

When people asked her if she could guarantee them a spot if they paid a fee, Renfro determined that she could regulate that only through permits.

"I don't know how many people that will affect," said Mayor Fred Armstrong. "We'll find out."

April 12, 2003

Sears renews Commons lease: Anchors to remain downtown 6 more years

Sears and Kerasotes Theaters Inc. have renewed their leases in The Commons Mall for five years — steps city officials lauded as an endorsement of downtown Columbus as a retail destination.

"It's important, and we're obviously very happy that they renewed," said Herman Renfro, who, with his wife, Sharon, bought the mall in late 2000.

Sears has been "doing well," Renfro said, and is considering an expansion, which was one of the reasons the company was considering other locations.

"It's great news," said Rich Stenner, president of Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce. "It's always great when the private sector … decides to maintain investment in the community.

"It means they have faith in their continued ability … to prosper in downtown Columbus, as Columbus moves forward with its downtown development."

Chuck Wilt, director of Columbus Parks and Recreation, which oversees the mall's public area, said the businesses' decisions "will have a positive impact on all the programs we have down there," including the playground.

Columbus City Councilman John Brown said the decisions clearly indicate that the two businesses believe in the viability of downtown Columbus.

Sears renewed its lease a year before the old one expired, which means the store will remain in the mall for at least six more years.

May 9, 2003

Art theater negotiates with mall: Renfros hope to draw more people with alternative films

Owners of The Commons Mall are planning an $800,000 renovation, including new entrances and an art-film theater in the former Osco Drug space.

The Osco Drug space has been vacant since September 1999. The work could start as early as next week, said Sharon Renfro, the mall's co-owner.

Renfro said the mall is in negotiations with Ron Keedy, owner of Key Cinemas in Indianapolis, to open a similar theater in The Commons Mall. No contract has been signed.

Keedy's Indianapolis theater is known for showing cutting-edge, classic and off-beat films and its $5 admission. Recent and upcoming films at the shows have included "Bowling for Columbine," "Frida" and "Lawrence of Arabia."

"It is a different crowd than what you get at your regular theater," Renfro said.

The Indianapolis theater includes spaces in its upcoming film schedule for patron's suggestions of films to screen. The theater is located near the University of Indianapolis campus.

Kerasotes' second-run theater on the second level also will remain. There should be no conflict between the two theaters because of the differing nature of their fare, Renfro said.

May 15, 2003

Heritage Fund grant allows relocation to 309 Washington St.

The local children's museum, kidscommons, has a new place to grow up big and strong, thanks to a $350,000 grant from the Heritage Fund of Bartholomew County foundation.

Lynne Maguire, one of the chief nurturers of the 5-year-old Columbus museum beamed like a proud mom Wednesday at the Heritage Fund's annual meeting at The Commons.

Museum officials just purchased the vacant building at 309 Washington St. for their new home. The grant also will pay for refurbishing the interior of the structure, previously owned by Bill Daniels and most recently the home of Intelesis.

"We're thrilled, we're excited and we're jumping up and down," said Maguire, kidscommons board president. "It's important to have our work validated like this by a group of community leaders."

Heritage Fund President and Chief Executive Officer Sherry Stark made the announcement before board members and local leaders.

June 18, 2003

The Commons plans playground face-lift

The indoor playground at The Commons, now 30 years old, faces a major renovation.

The Commons' board of directors, prompted by safety and maintenance concerns, along with an urge to change with the times, is taking steps to redesign the popular spot.

The playground could be rebuilt by 2005.

On Tuesday the board began searching for a firm that would collect public opinions on how the renovation should proceed. The board manages The Commons for the city.

David Doup, board president, said they have heard comments about renovating the playground.

"It's 30 years old, and it's dated," he said. "I think there's a desire to update it."

A committee from Columbus Parks and Recreation Department, Columbus Area Arts Council, The Commons Mall and kidscommons has been studying the issue.

"There are a lot of issues related to safety and maintenance," said Mike Keogh, a committee member and director of business services for the parks department.

"Might as well look at the whole playground and see what people want."

September 18, 2003

Commons owner outlines necessities

The Commons Centre needs more retailers, but downtown also needs a small grocery store and a drug store for a development plan to work.

And grocery and drug chains want free-standing buildings with parking right at the door — not mall venues.

Those were the opinions of Sharon Renfro of Renfro Development Co., The Commons owner for the past two years. She spoke Thursday to about 25 people as part of the kickoff of Senior Action, a leadership program for people 60 and older.

"The Commons cannot survive without a healthy, overall downtown," said Renfro. "So, when I talk about attracting business, I'm never talking simply about what we own."

She and her husband Herman, who spearheaded Indianapolis' Circle Centre Mall with Simon Property Group, formed their firm in 1996. The pair bought The Commons from Irwin Management in November 2000.

Renfro said that, in the next five years, she would like to see:

  • l A hotel between Second and Third streets across from Bartholomew County Senior Center. She said Cummins Inc. owns the parcel.
  • l A restaurant and convention space in place of the senior center in the 1870s-era building on Lindsey Street. She said that's just one way to "bring more people to the (East Fork of White) river" to boost quality of life.
  • The post office area as new retail space.
  • More downtown parking.
  • A development of shops, condos and ice cream-style eateries along Jackson Street between Second and Third streets as part of what she called "Jackson Square" to attract downtown pedestrians.
  • A second anchor store to join Sears at The Commons. L.S. Ayres had expressed interest soon after the Renfros assumed ownership, but then backed off when the chain began closing locations.
  • More outward visibility for stores inside The Commons.

October 24, 2003

The Commons Mall celebrates 30 years: Indoor park, stores attract community

Retailers have come and gone, but the flow of foot traffic in The Commons Mall has remained steady.

For 30 years, The Commons, the area at the front of the mall, facing Washington Street, has sat downtown like a beacon, drawing shoppers and visitors, children and arts patrons.

A celebration of the 30th anniversary of the mall is planned for all day today at The Commons.

Pica Saddler, marketing director for the mall, said stores will celebrate with special sales, face-painting booths, balloons and a free concert.

Free horse and wagon rides around downtown also are planned.

The Commons is owned by the city through the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department, which contracts with Columbus Area Arts Council to manage the facility.

Katia Hatter, marketing coordinator for the parks department, said she thinks most people have no idea it's a public park.

"When people hear the word ‘park' they immediately think about an outside recreation area — a park.

"A lot of people go there every day and never even realize where they are," she said.

November 6, 2003

Key Cinemas in Commons Mall to show foreign, art, documentary films

Ron Keedy says the traditional movie blockbusters are fine as far as they go, but he plans to bring a different type of movie experience to Columbus.

On Nov. 21, Keedy will open Key Cinemas Columbus at The Commons Mall — a theater devoted to foreign, art and documentary films.

A lifetime in the projectionist's booth has honed his sense of the kinds of films he plans to show.

"It is world-class cinema, is what it is," Keedy said. "I don't like the blockbusters, the megaplexes... I think there is a niche and a following of people that like to be able to go to a cinema that is quiet, easy to get into, you are not battling 2,000 noisy teenagers hustling around game machines and trying to find your way to 18 screens. We are much more low-key but high quality.

"The kinds of films they play are fine, because there is a market for them or they wouldn't be here. It is the blockbuster, action (film) the 18-24 crowd specifically, they are specifically targeting that audience. And they are high-quality films, but they are the kind of films that have 1,400 explosions in the first two minutes.

"The kinds of films that we play, the fine arts films, are often done on less than $1 million budget and the filmmakers have just put their heart and soul into it. Which makes them unique. They are not rubber-stamped films, they are unique in every way. Each one is going to be different, you are not going to see a theme all year long such as action or horror. Each art film just has its own stamp."

Keedy already runs a similar theater in Indianapolis and says the Columbus theater will the only art house cinema in southern Indiana.

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