Envision a Columbus with a more vibrant downtown, one that is hopping every night of the week, with evening attractions that bring out crowds who linger for dinner or drinks — and even has a bustling downtown grocery.
Envision a Columbus filled with tree-lined streets, with small neighborhood parks complimenting much larger ones such as Donner, Noblitt and Mill Race.
Envision a Columbus with more downtown street festivals and beer gardens, a city that’s easier to navigate by vehicle, bicycle or on foot, with signage that will point the way for visitors and residents alike.
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Now you can.
A public-engagement process has begun for the Envision Columbus Downtown Strategic Development Plan, initiated by the Heritage Fund and funded with a $573,000 grant from The Cummins Foundation.
Ideas are being sought for a geographical area bounded by 22nd Street on the north, the Flatrock and East Fork White rivers on the west, the confluence of the East Fork White River and Haw Creek on the south, and California Street on the east.
Led by a 23-member steering committee, Envision Columbus carries with it a commitment to devise a plan for the future driven by the wishes of the city’s people.
It will replace the city’s 2005 strategic plan, which has been largely fulfilled.
“This is just the beginning,” steering committee member Rick Johnson, president of Johnson Ventures, told a key stakeholders group of about 45 people Wednesday night — many of them representing local not-for-profit groups, key employers and business leaders.
The ending, or at least the end of a six-month planning process, will be Sept. 1, when the DAVID RUBIN Land Collective of Philadelphia will complete final documentation from the engagement and planning process with the help of five other associated business consultants.
“They listen very well and they come up with some innovative and creative thoughts,” Johnson said of Rubin and his team.
Rubin said he expects to present three strategic opportunities “that will jump-start the next 20 years,” utilizing community input that includes three upcoming two-hour public sessions — April 23, May 30 and July 9.
“We want to reach very wide and very deep into this community,” Johnson said.
Rubin, who worked with Columbus-based Cummins Inc. on its Indianapolis Distribution Headquarters that opened in early 2017, visited the Columbus corporate headquarters during that assignment, when he began to learn about the city.
Conversations between Rubin and the Heritage Fund for a downtown Columbus strategic plan began last fall, and a kickoff meeting with the steering committee was held Feb. 16.
The public-engagement part of the process has begun with the first of a series of focus-group sessions, inviting people having common characteristics, said Tracy Souza, president and CEO of the Heritage Fund. The first was March 2 with nearly 20 Columbus retailers. Another focus group was held Wednesday afternoon with about 20 young professionals. More focus groups are planned, she said.
During public-input meetings, Rubin walks participants through a process he calls the six lenses of study: Connectivity, Activation, Resiliency, Livability, Recreation and Culture. Participants look at 24 photos on each of six posters and place dots on ideas that appeal most to them. Examples of ideas that resonated most with participants in Wednesday night’s key stakeholders group, by category, were:
- Streets shared for multiple purposes, such as downtown festivals
- Alley conversions
- An urban grocery
- A conference hotel to host events with more than 1,000 guests
- Tree-lined streets
- Ecological habitat
- Neighborhood parks
- Pocket parks or splash parks
- Engagable water
- Public play areas (for board games or other activities)
- Beer gardens
- Street festivals and outdoor performances
More festivals would build upon important assets that already exist, Rubin said, mentioning the Columbus Farmers Market, Ethnic Expo, the Festival of Lights Parade, Neighborfest and a significant level of public art.
“This is a fabric that is rich in opportunity,” Rubin said.
The downtown stakeholders group was asked about immediate needs for the city, as well as 20 years into the future — and to identify some of Columbus’ diamonds in the rough.
Housing, retail and restaurants, and a conference hotel are “some things that have bubbled up rather quickly,” Johnson said.
Specifically, people cited a need for housing that would serve middle-income families, as well as low-income households.
A community center — much like the age-50-plus Mill Race Center, but for people of all ages — also came up.
No Columbus strategic discussion would be complete without mention of the downtown Crump Theatre, and it was listed several times as one of the city’s diamonds in the rough.
Built in 1889, the Crump is known for its Art Deco-style lobby and a stage that has a history of well-known performers — from John Phillip Souza to Seymour native John Mellencamp, who performed a 2008 benefit concert for flood relief. The theater closed in March 2014 due to multiple safety hazards and physical damage.
But what if the iconic Crump facade at 423 Third St. was kept with a non-performance use behind the ticket office, suggested Sherry Stark, a member of the city’s Arts & Entertainment District committee.
“Most of have the affection for the marquee, the Art Deco and the lobby — the front section,” Stark said. But in place of the theater area, perhaps an artist space could be established, she said.
In such a way, a future could be created for a one-time jewel that’s been on shaky ground for years.
“I’m excited about the future,” said Jason Hatton, director of the Bartholomew County Public Library, after the stakeholder meeting.
As the library has done some self-assessment on what it wants to be, “it’s perfect for the city to be thinking about those same things,” Hatton said.
“What I heard is that they want to involve lots of opinions and perspective. I hope that comes to fruition. There are so many people in this community that don’t get their voices heard. I hope that we can reach out to them to help us propel the city into the future,” Hatton said.
Creating pocket parks to help residents connect with each other was one idea that appealed to Hatton, who also serves as board president of the Bartholomew County Historical Society. Promoting culture and museums was another, he said.
Diane Doup, a third-generation Columbus resident, after the meeting said she was pleased to see the downtown area on the city’s radar.
Doup participated in the stakeholder session wearing two hats, as community outreach coordinator for the Lincoln-Central Family Neighborhood Center, which serves the downtown area, and as a Heritage Fund board member.
“We have so many rich treasures, from architecture to organizations and companies, to our built environment and our parks — and then our most valuable resource, which is our people,” Doup said.
“We need to celebrate what we have, and carry on the legacy those before us have given,” Doup said. “It’s exciting for us to carry that vision forward.”
Doup referenced a portion of Mayor Jim Lienhoop’s March 8 State of the City address, which considered what Columbus should be 20 years from now.
“A project like this is going to help us do that — to take care of what’s already here, (and) to bring in new and exciting projects that can make our community even greater.”
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A effort to develop a new strategic plan for downtown Columbus is underway. Here are key dates.
Feb. 16: Kickoff meeting in Columbus with planning and design team, led by DAVID RUBIN Land Collective of Philadelphia.
March 2: Completion of initial inventory and analysis.
April 23: First public meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. at Columbus City Hall, 123 Washington St.
May 30: Second public meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. at Columbus City Hall.
July 9: Final public meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. at Columbus City Hall.
Sept. 1: Plan resulting from the engagement and planning process is released.
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Purpose: Develop a new strategic plan for the Columbus downtown
Project resources: Read about the Envision Columbus project online by visiting envisioncolumbus.org
Steering Committee: Jeff Bergman, Jim Bickel, Jesse Brand, John Burnett, Mary Chandler, Tom Dell, Mark Elwood, Mary Ferdon, Cindy Frey, Tony Gambaiani, Tracy Haddad, Tom Harmon, Jack Hess, Jason Hester, Rick Johnson, Mark Levett, Mayor Jim Lienhoop, Richard McCoy, Tony Moravec, Karen Niverson, Norbert Nusterer, Hutch Schumaker, Tracy Souza.
Operating Team: Rick Johnson, Hutch Schumaker, Jeff Bergman and Tracy Souza.
Lead consultant: DAVID RUBIN Land Collective, Philadelphia, planning engagement, landscape architecture and design
Sub-consultants: HR&A, New York City, real estate, economic development, program design; Beyer Blinder Belle, Washington, D.C., architecture, urban design and heritage/preservation; NelsonNygaard, New York City, mobility, accessibility; The Hagerman Group, Fishers, cost estimating; Impart Creative, Philadelphia, website design.
Get involved: People can share their ideas and opinions by attending an event, taking a survey or by writing “love letters to Columbus” or “breakup letters to Columbus.” Start by visiting envisioncolumbus.org, then click on “Get Involved” or “Be Part of the Vision.”