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Columbus’ Franklinton neighborhood, ‘the new Short North,’ poised for a comeback

October 7, 2018

Columbus’ Franklinton neighborhood, ‘the new Short North,’ poised for a comeback

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Columbus’ Franklinton neighborhood is also known as the Bottoms, because of its low-lying geography and because it has been home to a population at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.

The Bottoms, however, are trending up, as private and public investors flood the neighborhood (pun intended). The opening this month of the National Veterans Memorial and Museum is just the latest development in Franklinton, across the Scioto River from downtown.

The neighborhood has earned a new nickname in recent years, “the next Short North,” a reference to the once edgy, increasingly upscale neighborhood between downtown and the Ohio State University campus.

Artists, pushed out of the Short North because of skyrocketing property values, are taking up residency in long-abandoned factories in Franklinton.

“It’s become a hot spot for the creative class,” said Trent Smith, a long-time resident and executive director of the Franklinton Board of Trade, a nonprofit that’s part chamber of commerce and part community association.

Smith credits the neighborhood’s turnaround, in large part, to the construction of a floodwall along the Scioto River, completed in 2004.

Twenty years before, in the early 1980s, the federal government declared the area a floodplain, imposing rules that essentially halted building and investment in the neighborhood.

Franklinton, according to Smith, “was left to fester,” and became known for high poverty and high crime.

Though problems remain, he said, the neighborhood is slowly inching back. Among the developments:

* COSI, the city’s highly-rated science museum, moved into the far eastern part of the neighborhood in 1999, taking over the vacant former Central High School on land that has become known as the Scioto Peninsula. Last year, COSI unveiled a major expansion in partnership with the American Museum of Natural History.

* The Scioto Mile, 145 acres of parkland and greenspace on both sides of the Scioto River, was completed in 2015.

* And later this month, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum will open across Broad Street from COSI, making the neighborhood a destination for locals and tourists alike. Grand opening is Saturday, Oct. 27.

In addition, a collection of restaurants and craft breweries has created a cluster of activity along W. Town Street, a few blocks from the two museums. Among them: Strongwater Food and Spirits, a restaurant and event center located inside the old showroom and offices of the D.A. Ebinger Sanitary Manufacturing Co., which made porcelain drinking fountains.

Also nearby: the Land-Grant Brewing Co., which opened here in 2014; and BrewDog Franklinton, the Scottish brewery’s third Columbus outpost, with a roof-top patio offering downtown views. (Related: Ohio’s new brewery hotel, BrewDog’s Doghouse, offers in-room taps, beer for breakfast)

Meanwhile, several high-impact residential developments are nearing completion a few blocks from the riverfront, including River & Rich, located on the former site of a large public housing complex, and the Gravity project, a creative space rising on either side of Broad Street.

Smith said the neighborhood’s population is expected to double to perhaps 20,000 in the next five to seven years.

There’s one high-profile project in the neighborhood, however, that has been temporarily waylaid. A major mixed-use development slated for 56 acres just west of COSI hit a snag earlier this year when the Indianapolis developer backed out of the project. It’s now being managed by the Columbus Downtown Development Corp., the private, nonprofit group that also developed the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.

According to local reports, this proposed development is on land that is also part of the city’s pitch to Amazon, which included Columbus on its short list of 20 finalists in the competition for the company’s second headquarters.

Assuming the land is not snagged by Amazon, development plans call for up to 1,700 residential units, retail, office space and a hotel, to be completed over 10 years.

For the most part, investment in Franklinton has taken place just west of downtown, in an area known as East Franklinton. The neighborhood west of Ohio 315, sometimes referred to as West Franklinton, is more residential than East Franklinton, and has largely been ignored by investors, according to Smith, though he expects that may change in the coming years.

Among the reasons why: the neighborhood is ideally located, with easy access to both downtown and several major highways.

Smith pointed out that Franklinton, founded in 1797, is the city’s oldest neighborhood – 15 years older than Columbus itself. In the mid-1800s, Franklinton was incorporated into its neighbor across the river.

While Smith applauds the investment, he said there is concern among some long-time residents that gentrification will eventually price them out of the neighborhood – much like has occurred in the Short North.

Smith and others are hoping that doesn’t happen. “We want to see the neighborhood improve,” he said, “but we want that without displacing the people who live here.”

More information: Franklinton Fridays

The neighborhood hosts an open house, of sorts, on Franklinton Fridays, held the second Friday of every month. Among the activities: art demonstrations, live music, theater, food and more. The event runs roughly 6 p.m.-10 p.m. The next one is Oct. 12. For information: franklintonfridays.com.

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