Convention center reconsideration needs fresh vision

Photo provided A 10-story hotel and conference center is envisioned next to the historic Crump Theatre in one concept being considered in the Envision Columbus strategic planning process for Third Street in downtown Columbus. The hotel lobby and conference center would be on floors 1-3, with rooms on floors 4-10. Architect’s rendering from Strategic Columbus working plan.

Plans for a hotel and conference center in downtown Columbus have been at a standstill since the city and private developer Sprague Hotel Developers amicably parted ways on a proposed project last year.

Now, as The Republic’s Andy East reports, city officials say they are “reconsidering all options” for a project, including where it might be located.

“We’re just reconsidering all options post-pandemic — the ideal location, ideal sizing and are there opportunities that we could also use to incorporate other elements in the downtown hotel conference center that also help us as we are trying to activate our downtown,” said Columbus Redevelopment Director Heather Pope.

The downtown site of the former Bartholomew County Court Services Building — bound by Second, Third, Franklin and Lafayette streets — had been the proposed location for what the city envisioned as a new hotel conference center with roughly 140 guest rooms, a 9,000-square-foot ballroom and other meeting spaces.

But Pope said an undisclosed property that soon is expected to come on the market might tempt the city to go in another direction.

“… (I)t’s those other opportunities that have intrigued us because you can kind of get more bang for your buck as far as activation and revitalization in our downtown,” Pope said.

The Columbus Redevelopment Commission and the city clearly will play an outsized role in any downtown hotel and conference center that might come to fruition. It’s in the community’s interest to have investment in the city’s core, and driving that investment is redevelopment’s mission. But a private entity suited to a long-term partnership also is necessary, and in that regard, the city should truly explore multiple options with multiple potential partners.

The city could, for instance, solicit open-ended requests for proposals in a competitive process open to any qualified potential partners. To truly reconsider all options, the city could ask for options that perhaps it never has considered.

This kind of creative engagement with potential partners in the development community would demonstrate an admirable openness that we should expect from our community leaders as they reconsider options for what surely will be a multi-million-dollar commitment of public resources.

Given Columbus’ unique architectural heritage and the significance of a downtown hotel and conference center, we should cast a high-profile and global net. We suspect an array of potential partners would want to compete for a project like this, and opening the opportunity to any qualified development interests would align with Columbus’ best traditions.

At the same time, increasing the level of interest in this project in the development community also holds the prospect for the city to get the best deal it can, and that would be in everyone’s interests.

“We want to make sure we do this right,” Pope said of reconsidering the development options.

We couldn’t agree more. And on a matter as important to the community as a downtown hotel and conference center, we believe multiple development concepts and proposals should be considered and encouraged.