Ohio State seeks to connect campus, neighborhood near 15th and High

By: July 2, 2016

columbus dispatch

The often-imagined “long walk” connecting the Ohio State campus to surrounding neighborhoods is finally coming into focus.

A century-old desire to strengthen the physical and visual link between university and city and reinforce the intersection of High Street and 15th Avenue as the university’s front door moved a step closer to reality today. Campus Partners, OSU’s development arm, unveiled plans and sketches for a complete remaking of the east side of High Street between 14th and 17th avenues.

The earliest work — construction of a private apartment project between 16th and 17th Avenues — is set to begin this summer. By early next year, work is expected to begin on $30 million worth of infrastructure work to realign streets, bury utility lines, build a storm sewer under High Street, widen Pearl Street, build a new public plaza and reconnect 14th and 16th avenues to High Street.

Campus Partners first outlined the the plan in February 2015, and the Columbus City Council approved a zoning plan for the area in August.

Today was the first public presentation of visual renderings, which showed multi-story shops and apartments along High Street, with a tree-dotted University Plaza replacing what is now a Jimmy Johns sandwich shop and the part of 15th Avenue that meets High Street. That part of 15th will be realigned to meet High Street at a right angle, to continue the east-west axis of the Oval’s main path.

Just behind the plaza, to the east, the plan calls for 500-room hotel, taller than the other buildings, allowing a direct line of sight from it to the William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library at the far western end of the Oval. A so-called “long walk,” from the library, through the Oval, across High Street and on to the Iuka Ravine in the neighborhood beyond, has been a part of earlier, unrealized plans. The sketched design of the proposed hotel’s upper section echoes that of the library.

“This is a community vision that has been wrought over decades,” said Keith Myers, board chairman for Campus Partners and OSU’s associate vice president for planning and real estate.

Neighborhood residents appreciate the planners’ attention to history, said Doreen Uhas-Sauer, a longtime leader of the University Area Commission and expert in the history of Columbus neighborhoods. Campus Partners worked extensively with the area commission and other community groups in shaping the plan.

“To their credit, they took a long view of the area’s history,” Uhas-Sauer said.

The east-of-High plan ties closely with plans the university is developing for the west side of High Street, where a plaza is flanked by Mershon Auditorium and a renovated Sullivant Hall, with the Oval lying farther west. That area is to be refashioned as an arts district, bringing music, art and theater programs from different areas around campus.

Key elements of the plan would undo what are now seen as mistakes, such as when 14th and 16th avenues were disconnected from High Street in the 1980s. “They really focused on getting people up and down High Street, but they forgot that people also go east and west on those streets,” Myers said.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to the desired city-campus link is the design and placement of the Wexner Center for the Arts, which interrupts lines of sight from High Street west toward the Oval. Architect Graham Wyatt referred to the Wexner during a May presentation at an OSU real-estate conference as “a product of its time.”

The university’s west-of-High plan would ease the obstruction somewhat by relocating an underground theater space in the Wexner center. Currently, the roof of that space, covered in vegetation, protrudes above ground, blocking views between the Oval and High Street.