North Market braces for major changes with new tower

Jim Weiker
The Columbus Dispatch
The North Market development will include an addition to the market itself, shown on the right of this rendering.

More details emerged this week about the North Market tower, including how it will transform the North Market itself during and after construction. 

The tower will rise 31 stories on the parking lot immediately east of the North Market Downtown. 

The Downtown Commission unanimously approved the project Wednesday, pending final approval from the city's Historic Resources Commission. No date has been set for construction, but developers have said they anticipate starting in mid- to late summer. 

The $300 million development will include 171 apartments, 212 hotel rooms, 57,000 square feet of offices and 353 parking spaces in a complex that includes a 31-story tower, a 20-story portion and a nine-story section. 

A 31-story tower is at the heart of the new design for the North Market mixed-use development.

It also includes significant changes to the North Market itself, the 145-year-old food and retail hall. 

North Market Executive Director Rick Harrison Wolfe sees the North Market tower development as transformative for the market, including its size and hours. 

"It’s something I've been working on personally from the very beginning, and to see it almost there is great," said Wolfe, who took over the market in 2013. "It’s all about the market."

But several details must first be worked out, including the cost. 

When work begins next year, the development team, led by the Columbus firms Rockbridge and Edwards Cos., plan to remove the roofs that jut over the east side of the North Market, along with the east stairway, to allow for construction. The main access on the east side of the market will be closed during construction. 

The roof and stairway on the east side of the North Market will be removed to allow for construction of the 31-story North Market tower.

Visitors still will be able to access the market from the northeast corner, in addition to the west side, and Wolfe insisted the market will remain open throughout the roughly two years of construction.

"There will be some electrical and utility things we'll have to figure out, but the bottom line is, we’ll be open through this entire thing," Wolfe said. "We’ll have some interruptions, but that’s it." 

With the parking lot consumed by construction, visitors will be directed to park in the Vine Street Garage immediately south of the market. North Market visitors will be able to receive an hour of free parking with proof of purchase, the same benefit they get now on the surface parking lot. 

"I've timed it," Wolfe said. "You might have to walk 30 seconds long maybe."  

Wolfe plans significant upgrades to the market itself during construction, including improvements in lighting and the bathrooms.

The North Market tower development will include several uses in multiple elevations.

But the biggest changes will be an addition onto the east side of the market that will serve as a link to a dedicated floor in the parking garage and provide access to an outdoor pavilion next to the hotel and apartment lobby.

That addition is expected to include space for an additional 10 to 12 market vendors on the first floor and second floor seating and event space.

Wolfe said he and city officials are waiting for final plans for the layout, along with costs. The city of Columbus owns the North Market and the parking lot to be developed.

"We're still figuring out the financing of the addition," Wolfe said. "I'll have to do some fundraising but we don't know what the final costs will be." 

The state has approved $1 million for the project, but Wolfe said "that doesn't move the needle." 

The Merchant Building mixed-use development includes a hotel, residential tower, offices and parking garage in addition to an expansion of the North Market, shown on the right.

In addition to expanding its footprint, the North Market expects to expand its hours after the development is finished. Wolfe said the apartments and hotel to generate evening traffic for the market, the same way the North Market's Bridge Park project does. 

Wolfe said he expects the North Market Downtown to remain open until 10 p.m. instead of its current 7 p.m. to accommodate later traffic.

"We have a tremendous night crowd at Bridge Park," he said. "That's the beauty of this project. We will be a spot you’ll want to visit later in the evening."