Upper Arlington’s New Fast Lane

By
From the July 2014 edition

A spurt of development along Upper Arlington’s Lane Avenue has transformed a sleepy residential corridor into an entertainment district in full swing.

The familiar clink of metal forks and knives on porcelain plates meets the low hum of chatter and resonates from a breezy patio on Lane Avenue in Upper Arlington. Enjoying a midweek lunch, women sip iced tea, business types are engrossed in conversation and couples arrive to dine alfresco. There’s not one empty table outside Cameron Mitchell’s Hudson 29 Kitchen and Drink, a California-wine-country inspired place that has drawn a steady lunch and dinner crowd since it opened in March.

When the wide, heavy doors to this upscale-casual restaurant swung open for the first time, the transformation of this quiet neighborhood into a dense entertainment district was complete. The anchor is a pair of 5-story buildings that now tower over The Shops on Lane Avenue across the freshly paved street. One is a 109-room Homewood Suites by Hilton, Upper Arlington’s first hotel. The other is The Lane, a mixed-use building that includes 108 luxury apartments as well as 26,000 square feet of retail and office space, a portion of which houses Hudson 29. Save for one last vacant office, the building is fully occupied.

Hudson 29’s widely anticipated grand opening was the culmination of a years-long process in which developers worked closely with city officials to create this commercial-meets-retail-meets-residential space that would attract visitors and Upper Arlington residents alike. “The city believes a mixture of uses—office, retail, residential—is beneficial,” says Bob Lamb, community and economic development manager for Upper Arlington. “We believe that this mixture allows for long-term economic growth, while also providing for the needs of residents.”

But before builders could break ground on the roughly $30 million project, the city needed the residents to get on board.

When plans for the 3.5-acre Crawford Hoying development—which razed and replaced a Baptist church, five single-family houses and three unattached garages—were announced in 2011, it wasn’t the first time nearby homeowners had to brace themselves for construction. Two years prior, a cluster of retail and office buildings were built just a few blocks west of the proposed development. That’s where you’ll find The Wine Bistro, Tin Bakery and other shops. Thanks to the wine lounge’s instant success coupled with minimal off-street parking, nearby residential streets were often lined with the cars of visiting customers. Residents were disgruntled then, and the prospect of a hotel, apartment complex and more lively restaurants ruffled feathers again.

“There were concerns raised about parking on the side streets,” says Chad Gibson, senior planning officer for the city’s Community and Economic Development Department. This concern was amplified by plans for a pedestrian gate that connected the neighborhood behind the development to the Lane Avenue action. It was designed as a convenient pathway for local residents, but they worried it would attract even more visitors looking for parking on side streets.

So the developer agreed to lock the gate if it backfired, and “[the city] worked diligently with the developer to open up more parking,” Gibson says. A free parking garage with 300 spaces as well as a surface lot with an additional 130 spots is now open to hotel patrons, apartment residents and customers.

Still, some residents brought their concerns to city council, and one appealed the approval of development plans. In his appeal application, Upper Arlington resident Peter Whitehouse claimed he was filing on behalf of 16 nearby property owners. (Whitehouse declined to be interviewed.) In particular, he was concerned about Lane Avenue being condensed from four lanes of traffic to two. Despite outside efforts to overturn the project’s approval, city council upheld the board’s original decision.

The battle wasn’t over yet, though. The site on which the development was built was a dry parcel of land—alcohol couldn’t be served there. So, to reconcile this issue, Council voted to include a ballot issue in the November 2012 election that would create the city’s second community-entertainment district. It’s a state designation that allows for an increase in liquor licenses, which are otherwise allocated based on population. (The first is at Kingsdale shopping center, where Giant Eagle Market District and Rancho Alegre are located.)

The issue passed easily, with support from more than 80 percent of voters, and added seven liquor licenses to the existing 11 on Lane Avenue.

“We did hear some opposition [from residents,]” Gibson says. “Some were concerned it’d be a strip of clubs and bars. Of course that’s not what we’re after. We’re after a vibrant mixed-use area, and the vote made it pretty clear that the residents supported that concept.”

It’ll help the city financially, too. Formerly the site of a tax-exempt church and five homes, Upper Arlington will now collect income and hotel taxes from the new businesses on that land. City officials estimate the hotel tax will generate $130,000 annually and an additional $80,000 in income tax.

Driving along Lane Avenue today, past the new Whole Foods, the perfectly manicured landscapes, the sleek new hotel, it is unrecognizable from its state two years ago, when full-fledged construction mode commenced. Temporary fences pinched the jagged road, dotted with angry orange barrels and constantly plagued by a haze of dust and clatter.

Now that construction has ceased and traffic has calmed, it’s back to business as usual for local shops and restaurants—finally.

La Chatelaine, a revered French bistro with an affable patio, is adjacent to the new hotel and was smack-dab in the middle of construction. Owner Gigi Wielezynski saw her business take a hit.

“That was very bad,” she says. “Everything was down big time.”

But she’s already seen a jump in sales, and she anticipates that to grow. When she and husband Stan opened La Chatelaine on Lane Avenue in 1991, they were one of only four other restaurants in the area. Today, they’re one of about 20. The increase in business along Lane Avenue helps everyone, she says.

“It’s very good to have people coming in,” she says. “Since the opening of the hotel, we see everything coming together.”

Nearby Rusty Bucket has been a Lane Avenue draw for 10 years. President Gary Callicoat says he was concerned about how construction would affect his business, but understood there is always “some pain and suffering at first” with any development project. But sales are strong again, he says, and it was well worth the wait.

“It created a new entertainment district,” says Callicoat, who founded the restaurant chain in Dublin in 2002. “I think it’ll get better as things keep improving. It’s more of a destination area now.”