Next stop, Wonderland: An exclusive sneak peek

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

It's a mess in here. Defunct factory equipment is strewn all over the industrial tile floor. A crew is pulling miles of decades-old conveyor belt from the rafters and disassembling it piece by piece. A humongous white bread oven sits ensconced in the middle of everything, a permanent reminder of what used to happen inside this expansive structure on the eastern fringe of Italian Village.

The place still looks like a bread factory. There's still flour on the floor, for God's sake. But when the brain trust behind Wonderland surveys their expensive new playground on this frigid Thursday afternoon, they see potential for something much grander.

Adam Brouillette, Andrew Dodson, Josh Quinn, David Hunegnaw and Kevin Lykens have incredibly ambitious plans for their new digs at the abandoned Wonder Bread factory on N. Fourth Street. They envision a mecca for the Columbus creative class, an "ecosystem" where artists, musicians, retailers and more rub shoulders and conjure good ideas into exciting realities.

Artists' studios, rehearsal rooms, a boutique mall, a state-of-the-art recording facility, shared and private office space, a midsized performance venue, a bar and cafe, an art gallery - the plan is audacious, but if anybody can make it happen, it's these guys.

Lykens, a real estate investor who owns the Garden Theatre building and has previously rented to artists on a smaller scale, is in contract to buy the 64,000-square-foot factory. Though terms won't be released until the deal is closed, the building is listed at $1.7 million.

The other four partners are forming a nonprofit to manage Wonderland, each supervising his area of expertise. Handling the arts will be Brouillette, an artist and a tireless arts promoter with Ohio Art League, Couchfire Collective and Junctionview Studios. Dodson, president of Central City Recording, is on music. Hunegnaw will move his co-working center Sandbox Columbus to Wonderland and manage the adjacent private office space. Quinn, who owns Short North boutique Tigertree, is overseeing retail.

By bringing these elements under one roof, they hope to conceive a space that can be everything to everyone, a project they see as the next logical step for a scene that's already steeped in collaboration.

"There's been a lot of things going on that were separated - different initiatives that people have been running on their own, different activities that have started gelling together," Brouillette explains as the partners huddle up in the factory's wood-paneled upstairs office space.

They hope Wonderland becomes both a neighborhood unto itself and an icon for Columbus, proof to the outside world that something special is going on in this city. The goal is to move in their first tenants by August and be fully functional in time to throw a New Year's Eve bash.

Ideas for the building abound, but it's all still nebulous until the partners decide exactly what Wonderland will include, a decision they want to base on feedback from prospective occupants. That's one of the primary purposes for the open house planned for the following night: to get a sense of what the people want Wonderland to become, and channel all this excitement into a tangible plan.

Wonderland photo gallery