For years, neighborhood advocates have worked to revive retail on the Hilltop. Now, the city is willing to spend up to $50,000 for a new market study to figure out the best way to do it.
The Hilltop Business Association approached Columbus officials for a grant for a study. But now the city will issue a request for proposals for the study, the first one in seven years.
“The dynamic of the neighborhood has changed,” said Mark Lundine, the city’s economic development administrator in the Department of Development. Hollywood Casino Columbus opened in 2012, and retailers such as Kohl’s and Target have left the Hilltop. Barren Westland Mall remains the biggest hurdle to turning things around.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about what to do with Westland,” said Deb Miller of Boulevard Strategies, a real-estate market strategy firm. “The key to the whole West Side changing is catalytic development at Westland. It has to start there.”
Any survey will focus on the West Broad Street and Sullivant Avenue area, and on bringing back small businesses. “We have the population to sustain some good small businesses,” said Nancy Rhynard of the Hilltop Business Association.
“We want to understand the opportunities for concentrated development,” Councilwoman Elizabeth Brown said. “A study will help give us data to form an implementation plan.”
Boulevard Strategies did a market study for the Hilltop in 2010. Lundine said the earlier study was a “classic market analysis,” but it didn’t include a strategy for action.
Chris Boring, now retired from Boulevard Strategies, said there is still a good market that retailers could tap into on the Hilltop. Based on work he did in 2014, Boring said that 28,350 people live in a 4.1-square-mile area. That’s double the density of the rest of Columbus.
Collectively, area residents spend $220 million a year on retail goods and services, but Hilltop merchants sell just $35 million, he said.
Councilman Mike Stinziano said there’s a concern that residents are leaving the Hilltop to spend money in the Hilliard and Grove City areas.
He also said the Westgate neighborhood, with its 4,500 residents and median household income of $56,000, provides a market base for sit-down restaurants and coffee shops nearby. Close to 19,000 vehicles a day travel West Broad Street along the neighborhood’s northern border, according to the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.
“They’re starving for restaurants,” Boring said of Westgate. “All they have is Dirty Frank’s.” Hip hot dog restaurant Dirty Frank’s West opened on West Broad Street near Hague Avenue in 2014.
“We’re quite hungry out here, literally and figuratively,” said Betty Jaynes, president of the Westgate Neighbors Association. “Westgate can’t survive as an island. We need to get other businesses in the area.”
Miller, who bought Boulevard Strategies in 2011, has been consulting with owners of the Westland Mall. She said that despite the casino itself doing well — it’s No. 1 in Ohio — the Westland Mall area “is pretty bad.”
The request for proposals will go out in a few weeks, with the City Council selecting someone by September, Lundine said.