Columbus Commons and Scioto Mile
Columbus, Ohio
Project owner: City of Columbus and Capitol South Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation
Designer: MKSK (formerly MSI), EDGE, and Moody Nolan

In 2002, the city of Columbus identified the need to attract and retain residents and businesses downtown. Plans were made to develop two new parks—Columbus Commons, in place of a desolate mall, and Scioto Mile, which involved narrowing a thoroughfare along the Scioto River and renovating a park. The two projects opened in 2011 and together have catalyzed private investment, have attracted 1.5 million visitors annually, and are often credited with spurring the rebirth of downtown Columbus.

Columbus Commons is a seven-acre (2.8 ha) green space with three large lawns, a bosque of native trees, 12 formal garden beds, two cafés with ample seating, a carousel, and a state-of-the-art performance pavilion with a 2,400-square-foot (223 sq m) stage.

The 11-acre (4.5 ha) Scioto Mile has a multiuse trail, swings, benches, fountains, and seating pavilions along a promenade that leads to the showpiece of the park—a 15,000-square-foot (1,400 sq m) interactive water feature adjacent to a café and stage. The Scioto Mile consists of two components—a mile-long (0.8 km), 30-foot-wide (9 m) promenade and Bicentennial Park. Bicentennial Park is a five-acre (2 ha) area that has a stage; a café with 2,100 square feet (195 sq m) of indoor space and a 2,000-square-foot (186 sq m) patio; and a 15,000-square-foot (1,400 sq m) fountain.

Together, the projects are responsible for over $200 million in private investment in the RiverSouth District, including a 12-story retail/office/residential building, a former shoe factory converted to loft apartments, and other residential buildings with ground-floor retail space.

The Scioto Mile significantly reduced the amount of impervious area in downtown Columbus by incorporating 600 linear feet (183 m) of bioswales to treat stormwater runoff. This created stormwater credits for up to 7.5 acres (3 ha) of private development in the adjacent downtown area, thereby fostering private investment.

Perhaps the Scioto Mile’s most striking water-conserving element, developed in conjunction with the city Department of Public Utilities and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, is a system that allows diluted storm overflow from the fountain basin to be routed to the bioswales for treatment and filtration rather than piped to the overburdened sanitary system, which had a history of overflowing into the river. In addition, the project added three acres (1.2 ha) of park space and, through a partnership with American Electric Power, the energy consumption of the park café is partially offset by more than 150 solar panels arrayed on the structure’s roof.

Columbus Commons was built on the site of a long-vacant regional shopping mall, which was dismantled and over 80 percent of the material recycled. The resulting park is actually a green roof on an existing underground parking facility. By maintaining the underground parking, the city was able avoid having to offset any parking lost to the Commons with surface lots or additional above-ground parking structures.

The Scioto Mile cost $45 million to develop and was constructed through a public/private partnership, with each sector contributing 50 percent of the money. The Scioto Mile, owned by the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, has an annual operating budget of $350,000, which includes about $50,000 annually from the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation (CDDC). Columbus Commons is owned and operated by CDDC and Capitol South, with an annual maintenance budget of about $500,000.