Biking hub pitched as development booster on west side

on Friday, 15 March 2013.

It can be something that nobody else has!

Auto dealer Chris Haydocy is quick to acknowledge that a casino and urban campground for long-distance bicyclists would be unconventional cornerstones for redevelopment of Columbus’ west side.

But the president of Haydocy Automotive on West Broad Street and leader of a group trying to revitalize that area said the Hollywood Casino Columbus and a possible hub along the Ohio-to-Erie bike trail south of the $400 million casino could help lift the west side’s image and attract businesses.

“They are polar opposites but will tell a really good success story for the west side” said Haydocy, president of the Weston Vision Inc. redevelopment group. “We want to be identified by two big iconic things – this urban campground and Hollywood Casino Columbus.”

The bicycle hub, which could include camping facilities for those traveling the 300-mile trail being built between Cincinnati and Cleveland, still is under discussion. The casino became a reality in October, when it opened off Georgesville Road, creating 2,000 jobs and inspiring businesses, including Haydocy Automotive, to invest in remodeling or expanding their buildings.

West side boosters are awaiting other major investments in the area by the private sector, including what Columbus developer Larry Ruben plans to do with his company’s nearly vacant Westland Mall. Ruben, principal of Plaza Properties Inc., could not be reached for comment.

“There is a whole lot of work going on behind the curtains that I’m not able to talk about,” Haydocy said. “There are still a lot of opportunities out here.”

‘Brilliantly subtle’ icon?

As for the bike hub and trail, the city is planning to build a 3.6-mile piece of the Ohio-to-Erie trail along the Camp Chase railroad from Sullivant Road south of the casino to an area near Rhodes Park along I-70. It will connect with about 11.5 miles of the trail, including a bridge to be built over I-270, being completed in western Franklin County by Metro Parks.

Haydocy expects the rails-to-trails project to bring home buyers and renters wanting to be close to the bikeway. It also would provide recreation for west siders and help rebrand the area as a green and healthy community that can attract entrepreneurs.

“It’s an unconventional way to revitalization,” he said, “but we absolutely believe it’s the right way.”

County Economic Development Director Jim Schimmer said an urban campground along the Ohio-to-Erie trial could be a “brilliantly subtle” icon for the area.

“It can be something that nobody else has,” he said. “It could become a source of community pride.”


Verticial Camping at Weston Bike HubThe idea for a campground emerged from a study on west-side redevelopment done last year by urban design students at Ohio State University for Weston Vision. Other proposals are a series of “safe streets” to connect the trail to nearby neighborhoods; smart growth along West Broad Street, including smaller storefronts to attract entrepreneurs; revitalization of Great Western Shopping Center; and a community farm and fresh foods market and café.

“We identified the challenges and also the potential,” said Jesus Lara, an assistant professor at Ohio State’s Knowlton School of Architecture and one of three instructors to oversee the students’ work. “This will provide a role model for development. ... (The west side) has a lot of potential.”

The proposed urban campground would sit on more than 40 acres of underused city parkland on the west side of Wilson Road next to the Camp Chase railroad and across the tracks from the casino. It would serve as an education center for trail users and include a facility with showers, rest rooms, lockers and food, a camping area and green space.

“This wasn’t about the casino or rails to trails,” Lara said. “It was about the community more than anything else.”

Crime debate

Like Haydocy, Lara thinks the bike trail and campground can help rebrand the west side and boost economic development there. He also admitted such a camping facility would come with safety concerns that will need to be addressed in an area of the city his students’ report said has “a large amount of crime that needs to be eradicated.”

Engineering work has started on the alignment of the extension of the Ohio-to-Erie trail between Sullivant and McKinley avenues, said Alan McKnight, director of the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department. Construction could begin before the end of the year, he said, but at this point the city is not looking at building a campground along the trail.

“That would have to be down the road,” McKnight said, “but we’re not opposed to any idea that makes sense from an economic standpoint.”

A trail head or bicycle hub also are possibilities in the parkland off Wilson Road. McKnight visited a hub in Minneapolis that includes a bike repair shop, deli and other services for trail users. He also wants to connect the trail to other city parks on the west side.

“We’re still trying to see what will work out there and how it will be funded,” he said. “It will get done.”

Jeff Bell covers public policy, utilities, energy and the business of sports for Business First