Skybus: A good idea grounded by bad timing

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

I recall a short-lived airline that was based in Columbus a few years ago. What's the story behind this? You have a good memory. Skybus, with its orange fleet, was indeed based here at CMH. The discount airline, however, ultimately proved that what goes up must come down.

Modeled after low-cost airlines such as Europe's Ryanair, Skybus sought to serve secondary airports on routes with little competition. It began flying out of Columbus in late May of 2007. CQ had the opportunity to fly on one of its routes, and it was a good experience: low fare, brand-new plane, on-time performance, and-probably best of all-it loaded and unloaded its planes through both front and rear doors, making the process really fast. We flew to Chicopee, Massachusetts, to a former Air Force base; the terminal was a little concrete block building, and checked luggage was delivered to a tent next door.

Skybus showed early promise, eventually serving 17 destinations out of Columbus and 11 out of Greensboro/High Point, North Carolina, as well as a few other routes, and it was planning some Mexico and Bahamas services. But recall what was happening in the economy as 2007 stumbled into 2008. The Great Recession, along with spiking fuel prices, clipped the wings of our feisty startup, and Skybus shut down on April 5, 2008. It was just under a year old and, so it's said, cost local investors a bundle.

The new Scioto Mile along the Scioto River and Civic Center Drive is really nice. But what, exactly, is the Civic Center? We can thank the 1913 flood for our great collection of public buildings called the Civic Center. Back then, the river was pretty ugly, its sloping banks lined with factories and run-down buildings. A 1908 plan would have remade the city core with a broad esplanade from the Statehouse to the river and beyond, but it died aborning. The flood, though, reminded Columbus there was work to be done, as all the bridges and most of the riverfront buildings were wrecked.

Over the next few years, a Civic Center commission developed a plan to set aside and beautify the area for the construction of major public buildings. First came a tripling of the river's width (it's now back to about its original size) and new bridges (all since replaced), along with the concrete and stone wall and balustrade along the east bank that's still in place. Then, from the early 1920s to mid-1930s, a U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, Central Police Station, City Hall and the Ohio Departments of State building (today the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center) were added. Across from it, Central High School opened in 1924 (today, it's the site of COSI). In the 1960s, additional state office buildings were added. If you include the now demolished Ohio Penitentiary in the south end of today's Arena District, and the former Ohio State Arsenal-today the Cultural Arts Center-there has been a nearly mile-long crescent of public architecture along the river for nearly a century. And not too many cities can claim that.

Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus.