The architecture of the past can be a foundation for the population growth of Central Ohio’s future.

That’s the “retropolitan” vision of Randy Black, who recently retired after 15 years as the City of Columbus Historic Preservation Officer, and another 10 years in that department. He’s now a preservation consultant to the Ohio Connection and in the private sector.

“Working hand-to-hand with city staff in many departments and divisions; the Environmental Court, developers and historic commissions, as well as neighborhood residents and volunteers throughout the City was a unique opportunity, he said. “The importance of place has been confirmed consistently throughout my career.”

The current downtown housing boom in Columbus is mostly new construction on vacant or underused property. But an earlier boom, soon after Mayor Michael B. Coleman’s downtown initiative began in 2000, made use of historic warehouse, mechanical, and office buildings repurposed through additions and major renovations.

“There are excellent examples of the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of existing buildings in the central city and neighborhoods citywide,” Black said, citing three examples:

  • A three-story brick warehouse on North Pearl Street, awaiting demolition in Italian Village, became a ground floor restaurant with apartments above designed by FMS Architects.
  • The former Travelers Insurance building on North Park Street in Victorian Village became the Pizzuti Museum with an adjoining parking garage, designed by Architectonica from New York City and Jonathan Barnes Architecture and Design, of Columbus.
  • The old Municipal Light Plant, at the mouth of the Olentangy River just west of Huntington Park, soon will be a regional destination for customers of Garth’s Auctioneers & Appraisers.

Black is not a preservation-at-all-costs ideologue, but would like planners, zoning boards, and city councils to keep preservation in mind as they prepare for growth and development. He also would like to see the region’s growth and development processes to be less adversarial.

Sometimes, community groups favor preservation because they don’t want density, or don’t want a taller building – or don’t want change. Sometimes they want better balance – they recognize the inevitability of growth and change and accept a developer’s right to make a profit, but want a project that respects local heritage and maybe incorporates historic structures.

But often, discussion of development projects at meetings of area commissions and civic associations turns adversarial – and that’s something Black would like to see changed.

“The projection of population growth in Central Ohio is not merely a prediction, it is the coming new normal,” Black said.  “With that in mind, it is critical in preparing for successful urban growth that all involved parties are at the table from the beginning.  Developers, neighborhood leaders, residents, and business owners, city administrators and planners all need to discuss and articulate a new vision that will ensure  a vibrant urban growth that includes great design incorporating the new with the existing, the current with the historic.”

Black believes such meetings – even before architectural renderings and other details are complete – will examine how well a project fits in with or recognizes the character of a community. But he cautions that some ground rules are needed.

Residents need to accept that development most likely will occur and that their role is to help shape it – not stop it. Likewise, developers need to meet in good faith and abide by agreements they make with the community. Done well, this sort of give-and-take could save time and money by streamlining the zoning and permitting process – and the community stamp of approval could also make the project more successful, Black said.

He said insight2050 is a critical foundation for discussion and review of development projects. The growth in population, changes in household makeup, and emerging preferences for walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods means much of the new development will be in denser urban and suburban nodes that enable preservation of farmland and greenspace.