Millennials Flocking to Downtown Columbus, Ohio
Millennials are the future, they’re concerned about the future and they’re bringing all of us into the future. This generation wants to live where they do their “living.” They want green space, bike paths, access to transit or shared transportation and an active neighborhood. In short, they want to live in downtown Columbus. Not the downtown of years ago, where the streets rolled up at 5 p.m. and you’d be hard-pressed to find a coffee shop open on the weekend. But the downtown of today, where green space is king, rooftops have followed, retail is popping up and there’s so much to do that sometimes it’s hard to decide what to choose.
In 2002, the Columbus Downtown Development Corp. (CDDC) was formed and tasked with reshaping and revitalizing downtown Columbus into an urban hub. But would it work? Fifteen years later, we have the answer: the Millennials are coming, and they’re bringing everyone else with them.
CDDC was created to lead game-changing city projects. Our ultimate goal is to give people and companies reasons to live, work and play downtown. We took an empty mall and turned it into an activated, mixed-use hub in the center of the city. We added more public green space and parks, and urban amenities like multi-use trails and outdoor performing arts spaces. By creating, then nurturing a higher quality of life, we attracted residents and businesses to downtown. The strategy has paid off and today, downtown Columbus is a thriving neighborhood with bustling shops, bars and restaurants catering to a residential population that’s doubled over the past decade.
The aforementioned mall was the former City Center mall. It is now Columbus Commons, a six-acre urban park that is open to the public and offers residents, workers and visitors many public amenities. The space features manicured gardens, cafés, a large lawn, a hand-carved carousel and the Columbus Bicentennial Pavilion, a performance space that drives the more than 200 events held at the Commons annually. From fitness to food trucks, Columbus Commons has become the place where our community comes to enjoy outdoor fun, earning its nickname “downtown’s playground.” Millennials are a key factor in event planning, production and attendance.
CDDC also drove the development of the Scioto Mile. The award-winning park was created through the conversion of a multi-lane highway into an integrated system of parks, boulevards, bikeways and pedestrian paths. With a graceful promenade leading to a world-class interactive water feature, the Scioto Mile draws visitors from near and far. Other park elements include a band shell and full-service restaurant. In November 2015, phase II of the Scioto Mile was completed, with the removal of an unnecessary dam, the narrowing of the river to its natural channel and the creation of 33 acres of green space and 1.5 miles of multi-use path connections. Now, you can regularly see people running along the paths, canoeing or kayaking in the river and picnicking in the lawns.
This first wave of investment in public amenities has done more than attract people downtown; it has also brought on a second wave of private investment. Since the projects began, Columbus Commons and the Scioto Mile have catalyzed almost $270 million in private investment in the RiverSouth District, with more on the way. The focus of this investment is what Millennials want—residential and mixed-use buildings that cater to this growing residential demographic.
Continued expansion efforts
Across the river is the start of the next great neighborhood, the Scioto Peninsula. Already home to our Center of Science and Industry museum, the Peninsula is experiencing an explosion of more than $135 million in large-scale civic projects.
In late 2015, we broke ground on the new National Veterans Memorial & Museum, the first and only national museum in the United States dedicated to honoring veterans, slated to open in 2018. In September, we broke ground on a new 6.5-acre park and underground parking garage. Work to transform roadways and utilities into pedestrian-friendly streets continues. We envision Millennials flocking to this neighborhood once residential and office buildings are developed.
By the end of this year, the number of residents living downtown will hit 8,000—double the population in 2004—and the number keeps growing as we’re projected to hit more than 10,000 residents in 2018. Many of those residents coming to the city are Millennials. 44 percent of those living downtown are 20 to 34 years old, according to the State of Downtown Columbus report issued this summer by the Capital Crossroads and Discovery Special Improvement Districts.
As we grow in the number of residents living downtown, we’re growing in the number of businesses that cater to them. These service amenities make up a large portion of the more than $500 million in current construction and the more than $1.2 billion in proposed investment for downtown. In the first half of 2016, more than $65 million in projects were completed, including nine new businesses. Now, more than 330 retail goods and services businesses, restaurants and bars are located downtown.
New businesses in 2016 included Café Phenix, a neighborhood coffee shop; Condado Tacos; Jewlweed Floral Studio; The Downtown Bike Shop, whose mission includes educating the community on biking and local cycling events; and PowerHouse Gym. Just a few years ago, downtown Columbus was a ghost town at nights and on weekends. Today, these new businesses thrive during nights and weekends, catering to a population of residents that spend an average of $8,200 per year on goods and services downtown.
2017 marks the 15-year anniversary of the CDDC’s formation. As 2016 proved, we’ve created a downtown community that’s full of energy, life and vitality. We’ve opened our doors to Millennials and they aren’t walking through, they’re running.
-By Guy Worley, President/CEO, Columbus Downtown Development Corp.