A Riverfront with Results: Downtown Columbus


  • How continual planning can establish common community goals and enable flexibility, creativity and high-quality improvements and investments 

  • How to leverage public buy-in and private sector support to overcome challenges and realize opportunities

  • How to build strategic partnerships to fast track fundraising and implementation 


The 1998 Riverfront Vision Plan clearly established the need for a revitalized riverfront that would contribute to the image of Columbus by connecting neighborhoods and becoming a regional destination. No longer overlooked and underutilized, planners envisioned a riverfront that would be a restored ecological corridor and a catalyst for community reinvestment. This initial public process set the stage for numerous improvements and investments, including five new downtown riverfront parks, the removal of two low-head dams, a restored riverfront ecosystem, revitalized neighborhoods and new urban districts.

Since 1998, additional planning processes have occurred to revisit and recalibrate these objectives. In 2002, the City of Columbus convened the public to develop a Strategic Business Plan for downtown. It also created an implementation entity, the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation (CDDC) to guide riverfront park and neighborhood projects and to liaise with the public and private sectors to design improvements and raise funds. In 2010, the Downtown Plan was revised to reflect completed projects and improvements. With the riverfront park system largely in place, the public now envisioned a free-flowing, naturalized river that allowed people to re-engage with the Scioto River. This set the stage for the final phase of riverfront revitalization that is nearing completion today with the Scioto Greenways project.

The achievements of the Downtown Columbus Riverfront during the intervening 18 years can be measured in concrete terms. The City, the CDDC and the private sector worked side by side to facilitate the investment of over $127 million in 179 acres of new and renovated parkland. This infusion of capital has led to the return of millions of visitors to the riverfront annually and has triggered nearly $1.4 billion in additional private investment in the neighborhoods and urban districts that surround the Scioto River. The nearly 2,000 residential units built in RiverSouth, the Arena District and East Franklinton have helped population of Downtown Columbus to more than double since the Vision Plan was published—the first increase since 1950.

This session will reveal the methods and results of the three public planning processes that set the stage for the park improvements, neighborhood redevelopment and ecological restoration of the riverfront. Speakers will explain the challenges of building a system of urban riverfront parks, including railroad bridges, flood controls, historic architecture, low-head dams, brownfield sites, aging public infrastructure, and combined sewer overflows. The importance of public-private partnerships will be addressed, highlighting how the City and the CDDC forged interagency cooperation to streamline funding and implementation. Finally, the economic development impact of these investments—ranging from grassroots revitalization in the East Franklinton Creative Community to the creation of a new mixed-use sports, entertainment, office and residential neighborhood in the Arena District—will be addressed.  The Downtown Columbus Riverfront won the 2016 APA National Planning Award of Excellence for Implementation.