Area around Columbus casino shows signs of revival

on Wednesday, 03 September 2014.

Signs of revival adding up around casino on West Side; businesses open or renovate, and infrastructure improves

A symbol of the recent resurgence of the West Side, a forgotten, blighted area once deemed the emptiest neighborhood in America, can be found in something as simple as a pulled-pork sandwich.

"Here, let me take that picture for you,” Chris Haydocy said as he wiped BBQ sauce from his mouth and walked over to a Poughkeepsie, N.Y., couple about to take a selfie of themselves and their sandwiches, with Hollywood Casino Columbus in the background. 

They had traveled to Haydocy’s new Airstream and RV dealership to pick up their recreational vehicle, and they received a complimentary lunch at the dealer’s Land Yacht BBQ food truck, parked at Haydocy Buick and GM near the casino.

“What was the chance five years ago that anyone would want to have their picture taken anywhere on the West Side?” Haydocy said after he took the photo.

In recent months, the West Side has slowly begun to re-emerge, sparked by the October 2012 opening of the $400 million Hollywood Casino. The opening has led to several development and retail projects and a renewed sense of optimism that not even the continued struggles of Westland Mall can extinguish.

There have been infrastructure improvements along Georgesville Road and W. Broad Street. Metro Parks is working on improvements to the Camp Chase multi-use path, and there will be a 47-acre park on Wilson Road south of W. Broad Street.

“If it wasn’t for the casino, none of this would have happened,” said Haydocy, who is president of Weston Vision, the West Side’s economic-development organization.

A McDonald’s, Big Lots, Value City Furniture and U-Haul Super Center have opened close to the casino in recent months. The nearby TeeJaye’s Country Place restaurant was razed and rebuilt.

“I heard how rough the area had gotten, but the first time I came here, I thought, this area has a lot of life to it,” said Himbert Sinopoli, who took over as the casino’s vice president and general manager in May.

Haydocy and Layman Chevrolet renovated their dealerships, and Haydocy added the RV dealership. The Weston Auto Group bought the long-vacant Pep Boys store, and the new owners of Hollywood Plaza renovated and revitalized the strip mall at W. Broad Street and Georgesville Road.

“It’s not just the casino; it’s also the city’s commitment to improving the West Side,” said Tom Heilman, managing partner of the Hollywood Plaza. He and his partners bought the mall for $3.2 million in December 2012, according to the Franklin County auditor.

An Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles office and Auto Title West are in Hollywood Plaza, providing another magnet that pulls people to the West Side. Hollywood Columbus draws about 9,000 visitors a day.

“It’s the cycle of real estate, and this area is improving,” Heilman said. “The state put money into infrastructure improvement, we have great arteries with (interstates) 270 and 70, and we’re getting the demographics to support us.”

Columbus Western Bowl underwent a renovation, and Buckeye Raceway, an indoor go-kart track, is to open soon in a long-vacant Kohl’s.

“Compared to what it was a few years ago, it’s developing really well,” said Don Cook, a Franklin Township trustee. “A lot of people were afraid and waited for someone else to do something first, but that’s changing.”

Weston Vision’s revitalization plan had five steps: put to use a former Delphi manufacturing site, improve the infrastructure, redo the massive and decaying Metro West apartment complex, create green space and revitalize Westland Mall.

“We’ve checked four of the five boxes,” Haydocy said; only Westland Mall remains on the to-do list. The once-vibrant mall, which opened in 1962, is almost empty. Officials of Plaza Properties, its owner, did not return repeated calls from  The Dispatch seeking comment.

The Romney Group bought Metro West and is renovating 820 two- and three-bedroom units in what is now named Havenwood Townhome Community.

“Yes, the casino being there influenced our decision,” said Anthon Stauffer, director of acquisition for the Romney Group, which is based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“We spent a lot of time researching the history of the West Side, and having a big employer on the other side of (Georgesville Road) makes a big difference,” he said.

The more-upscale Havenwood should help the West Side’s continued development momentum. “It means better tenants with more disposable income,” Heilman said.

Weston Vision’s goal is for the West Side to become as attractive to young professionals as Clintonville and the Short North are.

“Can we attract recent Ohio State graduates to live here?” Haydocy said. “Five years ago, the odds were slim. Now, possibly, as we add jobs and retail and finish the park and bike trail and become more and more vibrant.”

A reinvigorated West Side could in turn help the casino.

“Could we survive without the West Side (continuing to redevelop)?” Sinopoli said. “Yes. But could we thrive? No.”