NEWS

Urban Hot Spot Alters Columbus

January 1st, 2007
Michael Pramik, National Real Estate Investor

On a cool October evening, a couple sporting Toronto Maple Leafs jerseys stroll across Front Street in downtown Columbus, Ohio, as their hockey team prepares to play in Nationwide Arena. Nearby, three men in suits step out of their law office, hop into a silver Lexus and speed away. Down the street, two-dozen twentysomethings line up at Lifestyle Communities Pavilion to purchase tickets for a rock concert.

The energy in the Arena District on this weeknight is unmistakable. In less than a decade, this sleepy swath of downtown, once known for housing prisoners in the Ohio Penitentiary, has become the city’s hottest urban territory: 75 acres injected with more than $600 million of private and public investment.

The Arena District, primarily developed by Columbus-based insurer Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., is more than down-town’s northern anchor. It’s the site where the city’s dream of having a professional sports franchise came true with the arrival of the National Hockey League’s Blue Jackets. It’s been a boon to the neighboring Greater Columbus Convention Center, which is happy to direct visitors to the Arena District’s restaurants and bars.

And it provides a seamless link from the CBD and the Ohio Statehouse to Short North, a trendy amalgamation of art galleries, residences, restaurants and shops. The Arena District has hosted the Rolling Stones, Cirque du Soleil and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

With apartments and condominiums, the district also has brought hundreds of residents downtown and helped redefine the local office market with 1.2 million sq. ft. of space, and more on the way. But as companies have been keen to snap up office space as quickly as it is built, some areas of the region have suffered.

Columbus’ economy is diverse enough that it typically ranks among the nation’s top 10 markets. But it hasn’t been so strong that businesses are moving there en masse, and many of the Arena District’s office residents abandoned space nearby.

Commerce National Bank economist Jim Newton says that when the Arena District was conceived in 1997 Ohio’s unemployment rate was 3%, far below the national average of 4.9%. According to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, the unemployment rate in October registered 5.1%, higher than the national average rate of 4.4%.

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