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Columbus Retail Development Keeps Pace With Rising Population

Pictured are the Soma, J. Jill and Kendra Scott storefronts at Easton Town Center in Columbus.

Columbus is a city on the rise. While that’s not exactly a new development, the fact that the arc of commercial development continues to bend up in Ohio’s capital city is noteworthy — and the pace of growth is impressive, to say the least.

Columbus is the gateway market for the state of Ohio, with an impressive civic and economic resume. The counties making up the greater Columbus region have not only added approximately 160,000 jobs since 2010, they have brought in more than $8 billion in capital investments during that time.

Anne Mastin, Steiner + Associates

Columbus is home to The Ohio State University (OSU), one of the largest and most influential public universities in the nation; a long and expanding list of headquarters of national brands and businesses; and Columbus boasts a combination of arts, culture and commercial creativity that has led some to refer to it as the “Austin of the Midwest.”

Downtown’s Arena District, home to the city’s professional hockey team the Columbus Blue Jackets, is the standard bearer for large-scale urban infill projects. The new Grandview Yard development brought additional mixed-use horsepower to the city.

Retail expansions

Easton Town Center is the major retail destination in Columbus, located in the northeastern part of the city. The mixed-use development boasts the overall highest sales of any shopping environment in the state of Ohio, and some of the best sales per square foot in the nation. As the project approaches its 20th anniversary in 2019, construction recently began on Easton Urban District. This expansion is the latest of a series of additions over the years that have kept Easton relevant and resonant across the market in the larger Ohio region.

Plans call for 700 residential units, an additional 230,000 square feet of retail space, 300,000 square feet of Class A office space and a new 135-key boutique Aloft hotel. New tenants include two large home furnishing retailers, a soon-to-be-announced bowling concept, an independent microbrewery and several other dining and bar options. The retail portion of the expansion, which is designed to serve as the connection between Easton Gateway and the town center proper, is scheduled to open in fall 2019, with office and residential coming online in early 2020.

The Urban District isn’t the only notable new retail addition at Easton. A new Legoland Discovery Center is opening in October, and the list of recent retail newcomers includes names like Peloton, UNTUCKit, Shinola, MAC Cosmetics, Marine Layer, Indochino and Filson.

To some extent, Columbus retail trends are a microcosm of what’s happening across the industry. Food and beverage continues to drive sales, and creative fitness and entertainment concepts have added new dimensions to high-profile Columbus retail and mixed-use destinations.

Development momentum has been especially noticeable in the city’s bustling Short North neighborhood, where construction cranes are a familiar sight, rising above new multi-level residential buildings, ground-level retail space and restaurants. The new development along High Street has largely filled in the gap in the corridor between the Short North and OSU retail district.

Abercrombie & Fitch recently opened a pop-up store at Gateway University District, the entertainment and retail hub serving the university on High Street. A cluster of additional food and beverage concepts will be opening later this year and OSU is planning a grand entry portal into the university at 15th and High streets with additional retail and restaurants.

Players in the game

Columbus clearly benefits from the coordinated and collaborative commercial development vision, direction, organization and advocacy provided by groups like The Columbus Partnership, a nonprofit organization of local business owners and CEOs; and Columbus 2020, the region’s economic development organization.

In what was quite literally a case study in effective public-private development collaboration, Harvard Business School referred to the city’s coordinated approach as “The Columbus Way,” citing the robust economic and job growth spike that has helped make Columbus a model for other cities across the country.

The city’s appeal as a retail destination continues to grow. In 2016, Columbus won the U.S. Department of Transportation’s $50 million Smart City Challenge by presenting a plan for integrated, innovative smart transportation systems. Amazon and Facebook have built data centers and distribution centers in the region, and Columbus is a finalist in the ongoing competition for Amazon’s highly anticipated second campus.

The retail consumer base is only getting bigger. Columbus city proper is already the second largest in the Midwest, behind Chicago. With 1 million new residents expected over the next three decades, Columbus is showing no signs of slowing down.

— By Anne Mastin, Executive Vice president of Retail Real Estate, Steiner + Associates. This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Heartland Real Estate Business magazine. 

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