Building up downtown
Four years ago, Bexley, Ohio, began plans to revitalize its Main Street corridor to attract new residents and businesses to the area. The results of those plans now are beginning to pay off with $100 million worth of private investments in retail, office and residential construction projects and more planned for the future.
A suburb of Columbus, Bexley is a land-locked city with limited space for growth within its existing commercial districts, and in 2002, city officials began development plans to revitalize vacant lots along mile-long Main Street. At the same time, Capital University, a private university campus located along Main Street, began creating a long-term expansion plan that included ideas for the vacant lots. Bexley contracted with a local planning firm to help coordinate the city’s revitalization plans with the college’s ideas.
To begin, city leaders identified Bexley’s strengths, one of which was a strong retail district that included an art-house movie theater, an ice cream shop, galleries and several popular restaurants. In addition, the suburb had excellent residential neighborhoods with tree-lined streets and high-caliber public and private schools.
To capitalize on those strengths, city leaders proposed building housing and mixed-use facilities along Main Street that would appeal to people in their post-child-rearing years who desired condominiums within walking distance of restaurants, movies and services. Then, they created building design guidelines that encouraged traditional style, multi-story development along the corridor, echoing the character of Bexley’s existing commercial buildings.
With design standards in place by the end of 2003, Bexley created a tax increment financing district to offset the costs of public improvements and to commit to continued reinvestment in the district. It also offered tax abatements for mixed-use projects. By establishing a roadmap for developers that included higher density, creative designs and financial incentive programs, investments in new projects began almost immediately.
Six projects with more than 40 residential units and 50,000 square feet of commercial space are under construction. Most significant is the Bexley Gateway at Main Street’s western entry, which will include more than 6,000 square feet of retail space; 13,000 square feet of office space; three brownstone residences and a five-story building with 34 luxury condominiums. Total developer investment in the Gateway, which is scheduled to open in December, is $17.7 million and includes more than $500,000 worth of new public infrastructure improvements. The project’s developer also has acquired land across Main Street once owned by Capital University and plans to begin a companion project next year, called Bexley Gateway South, which will consist of 19,000 square feet of retail space and 48 luxury condominiums, putting the site back on the tax rolls.
The university agreed not to acquire any of the vacant lots and instead is developing its existing properties on Main Street to coincide with the revitalization effort, including construction of a new three-story science and research building, and the relocation of the university’s art gallery to a new Main Street address. Both developments will enrich Main Street’s character and create a new “front door” for the university to the rest of the community.
Other infill projects are under way along the corridor for commercial and retail space. The projects, which will be completed by next year, are dramatically changing the character and tax value of Main Street and are expected to generate up to $10 million in property taxes over the next 10 years.
Matt Hansen, urban and regional planner for Columbus, Ohio-based MSI and Bexley city planner