Columbus Commons

Designers: Moody Nolan, EDGE Group, FTL | City: Columbus, OH | Project Type: cultural center, reclamation
Date Visited: 09.28.12

Location: 160 S. High Street, Columbus, OH 43215
Size: 9 acres
Cost: $20 million
Official Opening Date: May 26, 2011

The heart of downtown Columbus is beating to a new green drum. Starting in 2009, in an effort spearheaded by Capitol South, the non-profit dedicated to revitalizing the downtown area, the old, vacated City Center Mall was torn down to make way for new life: Columbus Commons.

Located at the heart of downtown, Columbus Commons was designed by an multidisciplinary design team headed by Moody Nolan architects and the landscape architecture firm EDGE Group.

Depending on where you enter, stepping out onto Columbus Commons can feel like stepping on a giant green carpet; large grassy areas dominate the site with a few young trees lining the edges. All that grass might seem strange, but understanding the goals of Columbus Commons gives a clue as to why there is so much turf. Besides serving as an outdoor recreational space, Columbus Commons also hopes to act as a catalyst for economic growth by making the downtown area a more attractive place to live, work, and play. Thus, one-third of the site was reserved for market-driven development, which helps explain away those empty lawns. And, it looks as if Columbus Commons has been successful. Earlier this year, an Atlanta developer signed on for a $50 million mixed-use development around the Commons.

Columbus Commons does offer an array of amenities, from a hand-carved carousel and a life-size chess board to its celebrated “signature capital project,” the Columbus Bicentennial Pavilion. In celebration of Columbus’ 200th anniversary, the developers contracted the FTL Studio for the design. This is the same firm that designed the Capitol Concert Pavilion in Washington, D.C., the Carlos Moseley Pavilion in Manhattan and the Cirque du Soleil Theater at Disney World.

So when I visited, the site was partly fenced off and under construction. Columbus Commons has been met with many mixed reviews. Some people love the park despite its wide, empty green expanse–I think it would be better if they had added some topography change–because its one of the few park spaces downtown. But as I’ve biked by, I don’t see anyone in the giant green lawn during the daytime when there are no events. And despite the Commons’ primary purpose of attracting development, locals don’t seem particularly happy that part of their new park is being dug up and replaced with condos that would sever views from the park out towards the street.

What the space does successfully accommodate, however, are Food Trucks. Every week until September, a ring of food trucks gather in the space for the Food Truck Food Court to cater to downtown workers. And last Friday, there was the Food Truck Fest which I attended–Columbus and Cleveland have been wowing me with the quality and number of their food trucks. Over thirty food trucks gathered in the space for the event, the place was packed with people, and there was live music playing throughout the night. It was pretty delicious. If you’re ever in Columbus for one of these events, I recommend Late Night Slice (I hear the Slut Sauce is spicy so I didn’t try that) and sweet potato fries with Roasted Shallot and Truffle Aioli from Tatoheads. So good.

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