How a mall-turned-public park saved downtown Columbus

by Marielle Segarra

It’s officially fall in Columbus, Ohio. I know this because there are children with painted faces bouncing around inside a giant inflatable pumpkin at a harvest fair in a downtown park called Columbus Commons.

Nearby, Christopher Patterson is tossing a beanbag, while his 3-year-old daughter runs around on the grass. Patterson recalls a time you wouldn’t bring a toddler to this particular spot. “I remember it being like a lot of crime and just kids hanging out being kids, mischief,” Patterson said. “It’s turned into a really nice place.”

Ten years ago, the park was a nearly abandoned, three-story mall called City Center. It opened in 1989, with nearly 150 stores. But like a lot of urban malls, it lost shoppers to the suburbs. It also got a reputation for crime; in 1994, a teenager riding an escalator at the mall was killed in a gang-related shooting. By 2009, City Center had only eight stores left.

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