At first glance, there is little to indicate that a sense of optimism may be taking hold in Columbus.
Aside from signs on properties that will be part of the Columbus Redevelopment Authorities plans near the Columbus Soccer complex, many properties vital to the city’s future remain in much the state they have been in for years now – either abandoned or in a steady decline.
But beneath the surface, there is a sense that Columbus is possibly on the cusp of real change. The potential for large-scale improvements exist for properties such as Leigh Mall, the Magnolia Bowl/Columbus Inn and Suites corner, Lee Middle School, the K-Mart Shopping Center and the Burns Bottom land.
Individually, a viable plan for any of these properties would be considered a major step forward for our city’s major commercial and residential corridors.
Collectively, redevelopment of these properties could be truly transformational.
Plans for the CRA’s redevelopment of the five-block area between Third and Fourth streets from Second Avenue to Seventh Avenue North include acquiring all the properties and preparing the site for a developer. That project is already moving forward.
Meanwhile, the sale of Lee Middle School to Columbus businessman Scott Berry in June means the property will be put to use, seven years after the school closed. Berry’s plans include a mixed-use residential/retail development on the 15-acre site at the corner of Military Road and 18th Avenue. That development will be a bookend to the development along 18th Avenue that has become an expansion of the city’s Highway 45 retail corridor.
It is along that corridor that three key properties have created the greatest speculation. Now that Columbus Municipal School District has sold the former Lee Middle campus, perhaps its attention can be turned to Magnolia Bowl, which is in steady decline. The Bowl’s neighbor, Columbus Inn and Suites, went on the market this week. Those two properties represent a major opportunity to redevelop one of the key entry points to our historic downtown and could conceivably be incorporated into the Burns Bottom project. Toward the north end of Highway 45 sits the soon-to-be-vacant K-Mart, a big box site that could be perfect for a large retailer or grocery store.
Smack in the middle of those two areas is Leigh Mall, which has limped along for more than a decade under ownership that was either unwilling or unable to maintain and enhance the sprawling mall complex located in the heart of the city’s retail corridor.
Last month, the property was placed under public notice that it would be sold at auction in December as a part of the owner’s bankruptcy settlement. Obviously, the fate of the property remains in the balance, but given the recent history of the mall, there is a feeling that any change is preferable to the continued down-ward spiral that we have seen there. The right developer, well capitalized and with the right concept, could truly change the landscape of our retail area in a way that few properties could.
There are likely to be ups and down, delays and frustrations as development of these properties proceed, but we are encouraged by the possibilities these opportunities present.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.