When the Princess Theater closed in the spring of 2020 emotions were no doubt mixed.
Some said good riddance, given the reports of unruly behavior — including a nearby shooting — at the Fifth Street South site. Police installed lights and cameras and beefed up patrol around the venue on weekends, when crowds milled around the outside.
But in another respect, the closing of The Princess was a blow to a portion of downtown that seemed to have missed out on the revitalization witnessed in other areas of downtown. The 200 and 300 blocks of Fifth Street seemed to be struggling. A year before The Princess closed, Fred’s closed its location one block south. The building next door to Fred’s had already been vacant for years. The old Stone Hotel — across the street from The Princess — had been under-utilized for years as well.
The future seemed questionable.
Fast-forward to this summer, when Bart Lawrence announced that he is reopening The Princess, after a church’s lease on the building expired. His plan for the “new” Princess isn’t likely to create the problems once associated with the property. Instead, it will meet a need for the community that seems a natural fit. Partnering with the Columbus Arts Council, the theater portion of The Princess will be used for plays, poetry readings, films, perhaps even a film festival produced and/or sponsored by the CAC. In a sense, it marks the return of The Princess to its original purpose. The arts community has long needed a venue such as The Princess, whose theater can seat up to 550 patrons. The partnership stands to be a good one.
It’s also the capper on a remarkable transformation of the area over the past couple of years.
Developer Chris Chain purchased the Stone Hotel property in 2021 and redeveloped it into a mixed use property with 18 apartments and nine retail spaces, a $3.3 million shot in the arm to the area. The apartments are all filled and retail tenants are showing interest as well.
Also in 2021, nearly two years after Fred’s closed, Jim Mauldin, owner of the storage business U-stor Inside, purchased the building at 304 Fifth St. S. and converted it into a climate-controlled storage facility to tap into the growing number of apartment dwellers downtown. Word is that property is full.
Tom Velek bought the building next door to Fred’s, also converting it to apartments and retail space.
Columbus Light & Water purchased a building east of Fred’s to give the utility more operating space.
The venerable fine-dining restaurant J. Broussard’s has added an excellent bakery.
The synergy created by these developments has turned the southern tail of downtown into an area of optimism.
Four years ago, it would have been easy to write off this section of downtown.
Now? Its renaissance should be an encouragement for other areas whose better days seem to be behind them.
We appreciate the efforts of the developers, tenants and business owners, all contributing to the effort.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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