City Quotient: How Did the Riffe Center Become a Home for Government and Art?

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Why are theaters and an art gallery located inside the Riffe Center, which houses mostly state lawmakers' and government offices? They don't seem to have a lot in common.

This building's full name is the Vern Riffe Center for Government and the Arts. It's located at 77 S. High St., directly across from the southwest corner of Capitol Square. Completed in 1989, it has 1.1 million square feet of space and cost $130 million to build (at a little over $118 a square foot, a pretty good price). Columbus architectural firm Bohm-NBBJ created its postmodern design. It was built to house various state offices, some of which had been renting space around the city, and all members of the Ohio House of Representatives have offices there, too. From the start, though, the Riffe Center was also intended to showcase the arts. Government and the arts are not such an odd combination; Ohio has long funded the Ohio Arts Council, which funds and supports all of the arts statewide, providing artist support, exhibitions, events, organizational support and advocacy of the arts. That's why the Riffe Gallery is on the first floor; its exhibitions are always free. The building also houses the Capitol Theatre Complex, four theaters and support spaces that host all kinds of performances. It is a little odd, maybe, that the OAC is located in the Rhodes office tower, but that's only a block away. The Riffe Center was named for Vern Riffe, who was elected to the House in 1958 and was speaker from 1979 to 1994.

Sources: AIA Guide to Columbus, state websites

Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus. Send your questions to, and the answer might appear in a future column.