Tim Fulton 00:13
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the confluence cast presented by Columbus underground. We are a weekly Columbus centric podcast focusing on the civics, lifestyle, entertainment, and people of our city. I’m your host Tim Fulton. This week, downtown Columbus has continued to evolve over the last 20 years that evolution has been more prescriptive than some might know. The Columbus Downtown Development Corporation was created in 2002 to implement the city’s strategic plan for downtown, and it has continued to iterate on the policies and projects that allow the neighborhood to reach its potential. On the occasion of its next strategic plan initiative. The organization’s President Amy Taylor, discusses the organization’s history tactics, and why they are pivoting to focus more on people. You can get more information on what we discussed today in the show notes for this episode at the confluence cast.com. Also, the confluence cast is on Patreon. Find out how to support this podcast on our website, the confluence cast.com Or at patreon.com/confluence. The confluence cast is sponsored this week by the Mid Ohio Regional Planning Commission or more pcy. featuring stories about local and regional partners that envision and embrace innovative directions and economic prosperity, transportation, sustainability, and an inclusive Central Ohio. More please transformative programming innovative services and public policy initiatives are designed to promote and support the vitality and growth in the region. For more information, please visit more pc.org. Enjoy the interview. Sitting down here remotely with Amy Taylor, the president of the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation. Amy, how are you?
Amy Taylor 02:04
I’m good. Thanks so much for having me.
Tim Fulton 02:06
Absolutely. Talk us through First of all, what is the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation?
Amy Taylor 02:12
Sure, it was founded in 2002. In a response to what had happened the 50 years prior and 1950. Downtown was a robust neighborhood. It really was that crossroads of commerce and culture. It had 30,000 residents. It didn’t have a freeway system that really connected it to so many lively neighborhoods, like the Short North or Brownsville or German village in the brewery district. And so it was at a height of success. And then when the freeways came in, what happened to downtown Columbus happened all across America. And we lost some of that priority. We lost some of that reason why downtown’s have existed since the dawn of time. And so 2002 Mayor Coleman at the time, then Mayor Coleman and the business community came together and did a downtown strategic plan. And one of the outcomes of that strategic plan was to create an organization that was dedicated to downtown’s help. When you think about it, you can’t be a suburb of nothing. So downtown’s matter. Wherever you live. Wherever you work in the greater Columbus community, you really do care about downtown. I mean, Ohio State and downtown are the two iconic images of the community. And when downtown is strong, when that center city, that heartbeat is strong, it permeates the rest of the region. And so we always like to say that we have got a great region when it’s anchored by a strong downtown.
Tim Fulton 03:44
And for clarity for folks who are longtime listeners, you are wholly separate from the two special improvement districts that are housed in downtown. And even from like the neighborhood commission that covers downtown Do you are I’m sure you work in concert with those organizations, but you are wholly separate.
Amy Taylor 04:03
We are always ever were nonprofit. And we certainly work with our city partners because downtown is part of the city of Columbus, but we’re also the county seat. So Franklin County is an important stakeholder and where the state capitol and where the state capitals house so the state is an important constituent as well. We work with the partners, you mentioned the special improvement districts. The downtown commission was formed at the same time that CDC was formed because there was wanted to be a focus rather than have a traditional zoning code. Downtown has guidelines and recommendations and everybody goes through the downtown Commission, which has the authority to make the recommendation to city council. Downtown boundaries. A lot of people asked me about that. Because the peninsula over the river where coast is and the National Veterans Memorial Museum and the new mixed use development we’re building to the railroad taxes considered downtown. So it goes through the downtown Commission, the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation worked on it with the master developer for the peninsula. We have done a lot of projects within ko Sai, build the City Garage over there and build the National Veterans Memorial and Museum. And then we go all the way for two or three ways north, east and south of us.
Tim Fulton 05:22
Great. And Can folks think about you in terms of your structure very similar to a nonprofit, obviously, your stakeholder is anybody who has a vested interest in downtown. But what’s the governing structure overall? And my follow up to that is going to be how are you funded?
Amy Taylor 05:41
Sure, our governing structures, we’ve got a 15 person board, and that is appointed seven members by the city, one member by the county and then seven members appointed by the board that have themselves so stuck self perpetual members. And I’m gonna throw a little wrench in this and tell you that I technically work for two organizations. One is called the club’s on town Development Corporation. It’s a 501 C three, and our largest source of funding as we own the Lazarus building. And so the leases that are within the Lazarus building, including state leases, Columbus partnership, Columbus chamber, our own organization, are funneled back through us to invest in downtown. And then capital self was formed in 1974, to deal with the block south of the capital, which what eventually became City Center Mall. Now, in its new iteration became Columbus Commons caps out as a 501 C four. So it is a nonprofit, but not a charitable organization. And it is funded through the parking garages that were associated previously with city center that now are called the Columbus Commons garages. And those funds are used in large part to support all of the free programming 200 Plus events a year at Columbus Commons. And to make it one of the most beautiful places in the region, through manicured lawns, a lot of respite that we’ve seen more so in the past few years how beneficial unnecessary that is.
Tim Fulton 07:16
So city center got torn down, right. And Columbus Commons was quite large. And then through phases, some building has happened there. And is that a sale then of that land? Or how did that work?
Amy Taylor 07:30
Yes. So the city owns the fee to the land, capital South owns the improvements. And so we jointly made decisions that it was right to try and populate that area, again, not with a single use, like a retail mall, which was not coming back to downtown and a million square foot capacity. And, but having more residents having office line, the commons, there already was hotel and some office buildings lining the commons, as well as the Ohio theater was the right move. And I think the commons, interestingly enough, has become a national case study, because our urban mall failed earlier than other animals. So they’ll call and talk with us as they’ve gone through it. It’s been featured in The Wall Street Journal and on NPR marketplace, because you had to figure out what you could do with it. And we did a year long study threw a lot of spaghetti at the wall. And what we realized is the community was okay with there being private elements to it, but they wanted it to be anchored in something public. Because even though the mall was a private entity, it had a public facing surface. So that’s that’s what we’ve got six acres of green space that will never be developed on and then we have office and residential first floor retail there that ring, the site of the former mob, it’s now the Columbus Commons park.
Tim Fulton 08:56
There you go. And remind me the timeline that when did city center close 2009. Okay. And so is that then part of the and we will get into this in a minute. Is that then part of the 2010 strategic plan?
Amy Taylor 09:11
Yes. The one thing I will say just to correct myself is that yes, city center closed in 2009. But what close then was about 5000 square feet of food and beverage in a 1 million square foot Mall. City Center had been closing for all intents and purposes for a decade. And what was left there were very small retailers. And actually interesting enough that’s how we came up with the idea for the food truck Food Court, which has been one of our most popular events. It was in the first year in the commons in 2011. still goes on to this year. Hopefully I’m beyond because people said that they’re going to miss the food court and we said you know what, we’ll throw together own version of a food court once we tear down the mall and we Did and it’s been a nice homage. Same with the holiday lights and the Lazarus Santa event that we do. We like to take what was good, and then put a new spin on it. And it’s the 2.0 version.
Tim Fulton 10:12
Well, I’m just sad. I can’t get bourbon chicken anymore. So
Amy Taylor 10:17
and the bread in the the little flower pot, right?
Tim Fulton 10:22
Yes, yes. So talk us through then what were the accomplishments that came about as a result of the 2002 plan?
Amy Taylor 10:32
Sure, I think the biggest accomplishment was saying we needed to anchor in a residential population in 2002. If you go back to that time, you’re gonna find a lot of people with five day a week jobs here. So they’re coming into their office, and they’re leaving as soon as it’s done. And Mayor Coleman famously said that you could throw a bowling ball at High Street at six o’clock, and not hit anything. And so we knew that we had to work on the residential population, which is the tipping point, you know, retail follows rooftops. We’ve gone from 30,000 residents in 1950, all the way down to 3000 in 2000. So you’re 10% of what you know, your capacity is. And so one of the key things that came out was a policy of the tax abatements. So downtown has a 15 year tax abatement. And I think that really helped incentivize developers to build downtown. Now a lot of people say, Why do they need an incentive. And I always like to remind people land prices, the most expensive downtown, you also it’s hard to build, a lot of it is infill development, you don’t have easy access to lay down, you don’t get to be most economical in your geometry of the design of the building, whether it’s residential or office. And then the other thing is oftentimes that requires structured parking. So you’re not, you know, putting a greenfield surface parking lot together, you’re actually having to build parking in a structure that costs a lot of money to build up front and then cost more money to operate over time. So it needed a jumpstart. And the 2002 plan was really about policies, other policies that were looked at what should we do with city centers, that community it was clearly not doing well, even in 2002. What should we do our riverfront we had a riverfront, the flood whoa was complete, the river was all of a sudden, something that could be used or built next to what should we do as a community so looked at some options. And then the 2010 plan really doubled down on what they should be and how they should be run. And the 2010 plan was about projects of the the 2002 plans about policies, the 2010 plan was about projects. And they it looked at 12 catalytic projects, including things like Columbus, Thompson’s Iota mile, like food greenways, dealing with our riverfront artificially widened to 600 feet back in like 1920. And as we all joke that you could walk across it, it was four feet, you know, deep in the edges, for I’m sorry, four feet deep in the middle, or inches deep in the edges, there always seemed to be a shopping cart there. I don’t know how, because you’d go in there, you get the shopping cart. Now, a week later, there’s another one. And it didn’t flow. And so that came out of the plane, deal with the river, make it in the manatee, and then the peninsula. And then we just did our strategic plan, we unveiled it to the community after a year long, comprehensive process in October 2022. And that is about people. So if you’ve got policies, projects, people, I think what we heard this time is you guys did a great job and in building out some capital projects, now make sure that they’re operated to the full extent, and make the destination between those capital projects, something that we want to walk to so have first floor activation, make sure that we’re activating the riverfront not just have created a place for people to go but make it a place that people want to go. And then I think that we also heard that some people did not feel that downtown was open or welcoming to them. And that’s that’s an important thing to hear. And it’s important thing to act on. And I think that’s what we’re going to do with this plan. And then of course, transit and transits in every one of the plans. I mean, it’s in every plan that everyone talks about for Central Ohio, and downtown is no is not immune to that. So we heard that people want transit, we always like to remind people that downtown is a piece of the puzzle for the transit question, just like it’s a piece of the puzzle for the affordability and housing question.
Tim Fulton 14:45
And so talk through the policy part from 2002 is, I think, pretty easy to understand, in terms of how you get that done, talk through the funding and the work that had to be done in order to implement the two that’s In 10 plan,
Amy Taylor 15:01
absolutely, we really pride ourselves at CDC and with our elected leader party leadership partners at the city and the county and the state to be a public private partnership. So when we looked at the Scioto mile, we looked at at other places and what was happening across the country at the time Millennium Park was being built. Brian Park in New York had gotten a complete redo. And they did that through a combination of public and private funds. We hadn’t done that a lot here in Columbus. So it coyote a mile was a way to look at things differently. And the city came in with $10 million. And AEP as the lead giver came in with $10 million. And it was a $45 million park of which 50% of the funds came from the public sector. And 50% came from the private sector. And I think it was a historic way to look at things here in Columbus. And what we did was we got an amazing public asset, it’s a city park, but the private sector understood that they needed to be part of that equation. And the reason that they wanted to be part of it wasn’t just because a lot of them are headquartered here. And they wanted to look out on something that looked a lot better than the way it looked in 2008. I think they they realized that it was a critical component in how they were going to recruit and attract talent. And they were eating with folks who could go to New York, or San Francisco, or Chicago, or Charlotte, or Nashville, or Austin, and having a strong downtown was coming up and more and more of their meetings when they were recruiting talent, whether it was right out of college, graduate school law school, or those five did those folks with five to 10 years of experience. And that’s what that’s where the 2010 plan really became a reality. Because the public sector saw the value and probably had always seen the value in downtown. They were they were here and they’re located here is the State Capitol, the county seat in the city of Columbus. But the private sector got involved and Columbus Commons Iota mile Sahota greenways, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, the fact that we could bring the American Museum of Natural History to codify that we can transform surface parking lots, just west of cosine into a park with an underground garage. All that started to make sense. And if you’re in the development world, nothing happens overnight. It is a process of coming up hearing from the community. What do you want? Then the second phase is, is that technically feasible? And is it economically feasible. So sometimes you have the best idea in the world, but it actually can’t be done. city centers a great example of that, when they built city center, the 1000 space underground garage, and the mall were actually tied together. And so the floor of the mall was the ceiling of the garage. And so we couldn’t put large scale condos, when we tore city center down over that space. It’s not terra firma, it’s not firm ground. So what can we do? Well, we can line it where the garage doesn’t come with residential office and first floor retail, and keep the heart of that community presence right underneath it. So all the ideas of trying to put like a target or an indoor ski slope, or a replica of Christopher Columbus’s Genoa, Italy, all real comments that we got, there we go problem with some of those. Then once it’s technically possible, you look to see if anyone is willing to fund it. And that’s what we did. We, when we came out when we heard from the community, that we needed to look at the river and do the site, what ended up being this Iota greenways, creating 33 acres of green space, you know, 800 trees, 75,000, plants and bushes. The idea came from the community, but the first step was to figure out how could we possibly do this? So you bring in the engineers, you bring in the designers, we figured out a way to do it. Okay, so it can be done? Is anyone going to willing, they’re going to fund it? Is anyone going to be willing to money towards that? Luckily for us, the city Columbus stepped up in a big way. And they funded 50% of it, we were able to get other funding sources through the EPA, through various grants and projects, Patel came to the table, our organization came to the table and we were able to get that project done. So the third phase is implementation once you figure out if yes, it can be tactically done. Yes, it can be financed, then the what I call the exciting work gets to be which is actually groundbreaking and more importantly, grand opening.
Tim Fulton 19:44
Right? Absolutely. And I want to get into the 2022 plan here in just a second. But I want to address and while I realize it is literally your job to make downtown a better place. Talk about their critique that I Think comes from a lot of other urban areas that downtown, the short north, and then Franklin 10 are, quote unquote, getting all the attention where there are other neighborhoods that are sorely needing similar support.
Amy Taylor 20:16
Well, when I think about why downtown is important to everyone, it is more than just esoteric. It’s more than just, it’s what other people think of you. And when you have a downtown that has suffered, think about, you know, Detroit a decade ago in permeates community. But in addition to that downtown is what we call a donor district. So 90 cents of every dollar raised through income tax downtown goes out into the neighborhoods to fund core city services like police, fire, other safety, fixing potholes, you know, making sure there are sidewalks. So downtown’s exist, not just our downtown downtown’s exist across the country, because they can be that crossroads of commerce and culture. And that, that commerce really does help fund all of the other neighborhoods, it within the city of Columbus. And it’s also important to remember that density in some neighborhoods doesn’t work is hard. Because the traffic system and the utility system they weren’t made to be dense, downtown was made payments, work, that’s a key differentiator, we want to go high, we want to go up we want to have the most people because that’s what the utilities were built for. That’s what the traffic networks were built for. And that’s what makes it feel like a downtown and we all close our eyes and picture downtown, you picture hustle and bustle. And, and so that’s something that we can provide as an opportunity that then takes the brake off of the other neighborhoods for doing that.
Tim Fulton 21:52
There you go. Talk us through the 2022 plan, and what downtown will get from that and what needs to happen in order to make it happen?
Amy Taylor 22:02
Sure. Well, as I mentioned, I did not have anything to do with the 2002 plan except helping to execute I got to the organization in 2007. Okay, but I did have to deal with the 2010 plan. So I have to own one of the key problems with it. And that is we thought at the time best thinking at the time, was that we needed to have public meetings, we needed to make sure that they were on nights, we needed to make sure we provided childcare, they were on a bus line, we made sure everybody knew about it, we made sure to provide some food and water, all the things in 29 and 2010. That’s what we were told we needed to do best practices. What we learned is that inviting people to attend makes people who have already feel excluded continue to and there wasn’t a market downtown, people weren’t living downtown. So we needed to create that market. But when we looked at this with everything that’s happened in the past few years, we decided to be very intentional to go out to our neighboring communities that are not downtown, but that certainly other people may not know that they’re downtown. They may think that they when they walk up to the Short North, it’s still downtown. They may think that when they walk under the railroad bridge to Franklinton, that it’s still downtown or when they cross Long Street, Brownsville. So we intentionally reached out to those neighborhoods to see what do they want from their neighbor downtown. We also reached out to some folks that had maybe not been able to take advantage of some of the successes downtown. We talked to the NAACP, we talked to the Columbus Urban League equity now coalition, and made intentional outreach and said, in your opinion matters. And b We’re gonna come back to make sure we heard you correctly. So it was intentional. And we got so many great ideas that way. We talked to almost 2000 people. So we didn’t just do the public meetings. We did more than 120 individual outreach meetings. And some of them are the ones you can imagine we wanted to make sure we talked to the mayor wanted to make sure we talked to the governor’s representative, someone from the county, more see the library, Coda all the people that you would naturally think of, but we really increased it and said, Who are folks that are doing some really cutting edge things? How can we make their ideas part of downtown? And how can we talk to folks in neighborhoods that have never felt connected to downtown even if they are adjacent to downtown? And so we we intentionally sought new ideas. And what we learned is that sometimes it was the same thing that we were hearing in the community when we did the big meetings, and sometimes it was completely different. Also another big thing that changes in since 2010 or 29 when we were doing the 2010 plan is the technology is much more prevalent and So we did a lot of things online where people didn’t have to come to a meeting at all. We broadcast the meeting, they could watch it. And they could go right into a map of downtown. And not just say, I think you need to have better connections to the river, they can go to the river where they thought there needs to be a connection and say, and why don’t you put one right here. Or they could say, we really want to have more retail downtown, and first floor activation. And retail was a huge part of what the community shared with us. But they could also say, and right here is where I think it needs to go. Now, that doesn’t mean we can take all of those and execute it. But we are able to dig a lot deeper into those comments, because people were able to provide more specificity. And so I think the big things that came out a, we still believe that residents are the tipping point. So we went from 3000 to 11,650 at the end of 2022. And I count every one of them. Because every one of them is important. Saying we want to get to 40,000 residents by 2040. And a lot of people have thought that was pretty aggressive and have really challenged. A we don’t stretch we never grow. But be we know we’re going to be at 15,000 with just what’s being built right now. Just what we know our community and our region is growing with Intel with Honda with all of the the other trickle down things that will come from those. And there’s going to be a core group of people that say I want an urban living experience, I want to live downtown, the commute to Intel is like 23 minutes. So I think that it will be a reasonable growth for downtown. And then we also know that that more people want to take advantage because of the projects that we’ve done. The riverfront is now active. Now we also heard we have to activate the river. So again, you’ve got to get in there and get the residents. And the second thing we heard is we need to get in there and continue to prioritize people coming back to the office and working downtown. So is it going to be five days a week a divide? Probably not. That’s not where we are as a society. But we are encouraged by announcements that recently came out like Huntington did have they’re going to be in their offices three days a week, we’re encouraged by the fact that when we talk with our retailers on the first floor, they’re saying, Yep, people are coming back to lunch, we see our city, in our county colleagues, we started a little program called Lunch bucks. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, you can come to four different places downtown and get a $10 coupon to use for lunch either that day or Tuesday or Wednesday, and go get $10 and remind yourself why working in your office has benefits that working from home depot.
Tim Fulton 27:48
Got it? So 2002 is about policy. And 2010 is about projects. What word would you use to describe this new plan?
Amy Taylor 28:00
2022 is about people. And it’s drawing people down for all different reasons, live work and play. But it’s it’s owning that we need to be part of what draws them down. It’s not just going to be built a beautiful riverfront and walk away. It’s going to be built a beautiful riverfront and program. And it’s not just going to be having a cool office and walk away. It’s going to be investing in public art, investing in the public realm making where they walk, feel and look safe and cool and hip and urban. Which I know that just by the saying the word hip makes me completely uncool. But you know what I mean?
Tim Fulton 28:40
Yes. So how do you do that, though? Is this? Or do you guys propose to staff up in order to do more programming? How do you bring that to bear?
Amy Taylor 28:50
I think for us, you know, we built the National Veterans Memorial Museum, and we needed a certain type of staff when we did that, now that we’re looking to do more programming, more connections, more cohesion, we need a different kind of staff. So I don’t think it’s growing the staff, I think it’s, it’s taking the talent that we have, and asking them to think a little bit differently. And luckily, the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation is filled with really talented, really creative people who pivot all the time, and they’re excited. And I’m excited to be part of this. And we work with partners. And that’s the only way everything gets done. It’s our private sector partners, it’s our city partners. It’s our county partners and saying, How can we look at a few things. So if if living and working are the two big buckets, what makes people want to live and work here? And it’s first of all activation? It’s transit mobility, it’s public art and culture. It’s public realm and by public realm. I mean, you can go out there and if the scale of the streets don’t feel right, you might not feel safe. You mobility doesn’t just mean bringing in transit although Linka is a component that we are very, very supportive of and want to see that happen. But it’s also about low stress bike lanes. And what I mean by that is, if you just painted bike lane on the road, a small percentage of people do it, if you provide an actual barrier between the cars, and the bikers, whether that’s beautiful flowers, whether it’s some kind of fencing, then all of a sudden, a greater percentage of people are willing to try biking. And when you think in your head, what makes something a strong downtown, walking, biking, transit, cars, all those integrated working together. And that’s what the transit mobility and public realm campaigns are about. And so right now we’re in that second phase, we heard from the community, that’s the first phase, the second phase, what’s feasible, technically, and what’s feasible financially. And then that’s what this year is about doing the studies trying to figure that out. And then the third phase is execution. We’ve got a big downtown 2.2 square miles. So some of the executing execution is about piloting concepts, seeing if we’re right, and seeing, you know, throwing a lot of spaghetti at the wall and saying, Hey, maybe right here, this works. And if it works, can we then scale it to the other nodes and districts that exist within downtown?
Tim Fulton 31:19
And is it fair to say that this plan, then is less capital intensive than the one in 2010?
Amy Taylor 31:27
I think that is fair, I think a lot of it is activation intensive. However, the one part that will be partially capital will certainly be the mobility and and what we need to do with that whether, however, link us comes to bring transit, looking at some of our one way streets, and saying, Can we figure out ways if they can’t be two way vehicular because of a variety of reasons, which we’ll study, maybe they can be one way that hey, killer have a two way bike, or one way vehicular and two way transit or one way vehicular and one way, by going the other way, there’s a lot of opportunities that are on the table. And that’s where we’re going out to the community, our city partners have already launched a study to figure out transit, transportation and mobility downtown.
Tim Fulton 32:18
Got it? Amy, I end every interview by asking, first of all, what do you think Columbus is doing? Well, and then what do you think Columbus is not doing so well.
Amy Taylor 32:31
I think Columbus is doing well with being living up to its promise of being open and diverse. What I love about Columbus is that I can come from southern Ohio, and come up here to Ohio State. And that doesn’t make me any less of a person from Columbus, we’re another community want to know where your grandfather went to high school in order for you to really have, you know, the the true feeling of that city. And so I liked it that Columbus continues to be open. And that’s where we get some of our best ideas because people are coming at it from different points of view. I think Columbus is still working on its own viewpoint of itself. And I’ll put downtown in that as well. And I know Mayor Coleman has to call it swagger. And a lot of people have said it. And I think some of our best qualities are being Midwestern and being nice and being open. And as with a lot of best qualities, the other side of the coin, you need to work on mitigating the challenges that come with it, which is, we don’t like to brag, and we don’t like to be up front. It’s really nice. When you talk with people, I just did a tour with the City Managers Association. They were here and we get to do tours with people from all over the country. And when they’re saying, Wow, I wish we could do this in our community, I realized I need to change my script a little bit and talk about how fortunate we are that people were willing to put some things out on the table and really work to get it done. I mean, we moved a river, we moved a river and and use that dirt to create 33 acres of green space. And it is surprising in a good way. And sometimes because we do it we sometimes forget that what what a large load that was to carry and that we were successful.
Tim Fulton 34:20
Indeed. Amy, thank you so much for your time today.
Amy Taylor 34:24
Great, thank you so much for having me.
Tim Fulton 34:37
Thanks for listening to the confluence cast presented by Columbus underground. Again, you get more information on what we discussed today in the show notes for this episode at the confluence cass.com Please rate subscribe, share this episode of The confluence cast with your friends, family, contacts, enemies, your favorite development professional. If you’re interested in sponsoring Confluence casts get in touch with us. We can be reached by email at info at the confluence cast.com Our theme music was composed by Benji Robinson. Our producer is Philip Cogley. I’m your host, Tim Fulton. Have a great week.