Betty Jaynes, longtime Hilltop community leader, has for years seen many other neighborhoods in Columbus prosper or become desirable places to live or start businesses.
“We’ve seen other areas of the city see economic development,” said Jaynes, a resident of the Westgate neighborhood. “We weren’t experiencing the same economic renaissance.”
Now she chairs Hilltop RISE, a new nonprofit economic community development corporation tasked with revitalizing the West Broad Street and Sullivant Avenue commercial corridors, which have struggled for years but where city officials and neighborhood leaders see a potential.
“We’ve been working on this for four years,” said Jaynes, who wants new investment while maintaining a mixed-income neighborhood.
Climb to the top of a hill
The group held a launch ceremony Thursday at a historic bank building at 2374 W. Broad St. that was built in 1928 and is now home to Roosevelt Coffee Roasters and Kennedy Used Books.
Hilltop RISE aims to use the Hilltop Bank Block and businesses on West Broad Street and Westmoor Avenue, which include a popular cafe, as development hubs that will spread.
The Hilltop Bank Block itself has 29,000 square feet with seven storefronts. John Rush, a partner in the group that owns the building, said there was already a lot of interest in the space there, including people interested in opening a branded clothing business, a gym, a yoga studio and a few restaurants.
Roosevelt Roasters moved to part of the Hilltop Bank Building in March.
Cleve Ricksecker, former executive director of the Capital Crossroads and Discovery Downtown Special Improvement Districts, is a member of the Hilltop RISE Board of Directors.
“I’ve been a big Hilltop fan for a long time,” Ricksecker said.
He said Hilltop RISE – which stands for Reconnect, Impact, Strengthen, Empower – will help reduce economic barriers for those who want to build businesses on Hilltop.
One of the main ways is that Hilltop RISE will buy properties and charge affordable rents, said Rush, owner of Kennedy Used Books, which opened in May, and the Third Way Cafe in West Broad and Westmoor. It will also create a revenue stream for the community development corporation, he said.
The City of Columbus gave Hilltop RISE $100,000 in seed capital, Jaynes said. The group hopes to hire a general manager by the end of the year.
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Location is key
Preston Steele, one of the group partners who own the bank building, said the property is in an area with great potential. His group has owned it since 2019, when he bought it for $620,000.
“It’s an opportunity for this region. One of the biggest issues in our market is affordable retail space,” Steele said.
As is often the case, location is key. Nearly 15,000 vehicles travel West Broad Street in front of the block daily, according to a 2022 traffic survey by the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.
And Steele mentioned the Central Ohio Transit Authority’s plan to operate a bus rapid transit line on West Broad Street and through Hilltop, as well as its access to major employment centers and downtown.
“There is a wealth of assets on Hilltop,” he said.
It’s about trying to provide what the community needs, Steele said.
“We don’t need another (development) plan. Everything was described in Envision Hilltop,” he said, referring to the city map published in January 2020 to revitalize the neighborhoods in difficulty of the district. The plan said the Hilltop in general lacked retail and residents had to go elsewhere to buy things.
Map of Envision Hilltop
“What we do over the next 10 to 15 years will determine the trajectory” of the Hilltop, Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther said at Thursday’s event.
Steve Torsell, executive director of the nonprofit Homes on the Hill, said his group worked with students at Ohio State University on a survey to come up with plans to revitalize this part of Hilltop.
In the fall of 2021, OSU students studying city and regional planning interviewed Hilltop residents, businesspeople, community leaders, and others about the redevelopment.
They found that people were concerned about crime and the need to improve the image of the neighborhood. Interviewees said the redevelopment of the bank building would be a “potential spark”.
But they said the neighborhood would need a better revenue mix to support a restaurant or other businesses.
“I feel good to have started the process,” said Torsell, who added that he will meet Mike Stevens, the city’s director of development, later this month.
Jeeson Oh holds a Ph.D. urban and regional planning student and graduate teaching assistant at the Knowlton School of Architecture at Ohio State who taught the class involved in the project.
She said her students believed the revitalization of the banking bloc would be a catalyst and a good starting point to revitalize what she called a “persistently depressed neighborhood”.
“What the banking bloc needs is political will, like Franklinton,” Oh said, referring to the neighborhood just west of downtown that’s seeing a burst of development near the Scioto River. with the help of government planning and money.
It’s gonna take some time, Oh said.
“Progress is always slow,” Oh said. “Community engagement is a complicated process.”