Fortress: Mall

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Think Columbus City Center should be turned into a paintball field? How about a skateboard park or ice rink? When it comes to suggested new uses for the ailing Downtown mall, the mayor has heard it all. (See Ann Fisher's Dispatch column, after the jump.)

So what kind of future does City Center actually have as a mall? Check out this description from Simon Property Group, the mall's Indy-based owner:

"Columbus City Center features retailers, restaurants and small shops with local flair, all within walking distance of office buildings, hotels, and other downtown attractions."

Is that a ringing endorsement or what? Retailers and small shops -- we're just so proud.

I've always thought the building itself was pretty much a lost cause. The thing is constructed like a fortress -- no windows, no real pedestrian access or street presence, just thousands of square feet of blank, unfriendly brick walls. It's the anti-Downtown mall, the exact opposite of how buildings are supposed interact with the city and bring energy to the sidewalks.

You could drive into the covered parking garage, walk over Rich Street on the enclosed bridge to the third floor of the mall and shop 'til you drop without taking a breath of Downtown air. You could spend the day in City Center (and lots of people used to) without ever stepping onto a city sidewalk or even getting a glimpse of Downtown through a window.

It's really a suburban mall experience that just happens to be located in the 43215 zip code. So why not build the thing in the suburbs? They did, and as soon as shoppers had the chance, they went to Tuttle and Polaris instead.

People love to talk about City Center because it's such a juicy proposition -- so much real estate, and such a great location at the heart of Downtown. It's like a redevelopment Bali Hai, with limitless possibilities. We just need to get that mall out of the way first.

Commentary City Center sinking, but mayor sees hope

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

By Ann Fisher

Just about everyone has an idea for redeveloping Columbus City Center, the city's infamous white elephant, and Mayor Michael B. Coleman has probably heard them all.

Still, he has changed his tune in recent months about the prospects for the once-great shopping destination.

Instead of his usual warning -- "It's going to get worse before it gets better" -- Coleman told a group of local business people last week that he has never been more optimistic.

He shouldn't toy with us like that. But I'll give the mayor this: It has gotten worse.

The death rattle now is upon the Hallmark store, with everything 75 percent off. What is a mall without a card shop?

Not that you would know of City Center's demise by the Web site of its owner, Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group, which calls the property "truly the premier Downtown shopping destination" in Columbus. (Dispatch reporter Bob Vitale dug that up for a blog item on the mayor's recent speech.)

Of course, we all know that City Center is hardly premier, let alone a shopping destination.

We know that its bunker-style architecture worked against it.

We know that as soon as alternatives beckoned from the suburbs, City Center was sunk.

We know that an entire generation of children is half grown and knows only the legends of City Center -- the clean-scrubbed feel of Jacobson's, the brown-and-white signature Bendel bags, the freebies at the Godiva chocolate shop, the magic of the Music Box Company and, oh, the shoe stores.

How much longer must we endure this current abomination?

"Progress is before us," the mayor said last week. "I see it. I'm very optimistic."

That was followed by the usual smack-down: "Frankly, I can't talk too much about it. It's not soup yet."

So, we are left to fantasize, right?

Many readers have called or written since my column about City Center in late 2005. Most concurred that its future is in "mixed-use," meaning there will be shops and offices and maybe more.

The latest rumor is a casino, but I think not, and the suggestion elicited an abrasive "Ha!" from one city official.

One longtime City Center employee pines for an outlet mall. Pure money, she predicted. Other mall denizens offered up mostly the mixed-use remedy -- offices, restaurants, retail.

The mayor has heard it all, according to his spokesman Mike Brown.

Turn one entire level into a paintball field. What about a skateboard park? Others long have suggested an ice rink, Brown said.

The structure could house a college or urban technical school. And that's not all.

"We actually have people come up and say, 'Why don't we turn it into a mall?' " Brown added.

Why, indeed.

Copyright © 2007, The Columbus Dispatch