There’s more to discovery city than the Buckeyes. Columbus, Ohio, may be home to Ohio State University, with the largest college campus in North America, and certainly a major driver of design and development in the city. But several smaller colleges and universities, as well as research institutions such as the Batelle Memorial Institute and Chemical Abstracts Service, also call Columbus home. Not to mention the major corporations headquartered in the city, including Abercrombie & Fitch, Nationwide Insurance, and NetJets.
“The city’s economy is not reliant on a single industry,” says A.J. Montero, Assoc. AIA, partner with NBBJ’s local office. “As a result of this diversity, and that it is the seat of state government and a hub of higher learning, the city has seen steady growth and resilience in the face of recessions.”
Perhaps as a result of this diversity, the economic outlook in Columbus is good—or at least not grim. In 2010, Moody’s Analytics projected an 0.83 percent compound annual growth rate for employment in the Columbus Metropolitan Statistical Area over the next 10 years. “The Columbus city and region currently have an unemployment rate more than a percentage point lower than that of the U.S.,” says Susan Merryman, Columbus Chamber of Commerce vice president for marketing and communication. “The projected growth will have positive impacts in terms of real estate development and real amenities.”
Most of the new activity will be downtown—an area that has suffered as suburbs have drawn residents and businesses away. “City zoning codes have embraced greater density and infill development, and incentives have been offered to encourage urban housing,” says Jonathan Barnes, AIA, principal at Jonathan Barnes Architecture and Design.
New projects in center-city Columbus have already sparked such development. Nationwide Arena opened in 2000 to house a National Hockey League expansion franchise; the anchor for the Arena District, the project has lured thousands of jobs and more than $630 million in investments to the area, according to Ohio State researchers. The Buggyworks lofts project, in which a former carriage-making factory was rehabbed into a 120,000-s.f. mixed-use facility, was funded in part by a tax-abatement program for adaptive reuse of downtown buildings. Another insurer, Grange Insurance, sponsored the Audubon Center, an urban ecology and bird study center near downtown. The LEED Gold building features millwork with recycled content, natural daylighting, and a vegetated roof.
Architect Michael Bongiorno, AIA, principal and senior designer for local firm Design Group, finds city officials easy to work with. “At the zoning level, while there is significant public input and dialogue required, the climate is pretty development friendly when compared to other cities,” he says. “The building department’s turnaround time is fair to good.”
The additions in downtown Columbus haven’t come at the cost of the city’s noteworthy Midwestern charm. Columbus may be evolving through architecture, but it’s not changing, according to Tim Hawk, AIA, president of the local firm WSA Studio. “That’s refreshing. That Columbus attitude makes me want to come into the studio each and every day.”