Some Columbus Crew SC fans could face a long walk to the team's new stadium.
Columbus plans to improve Nationwide Boulevard west of the Huntington Park baseball field to the future site of a new Crew stadium, but it has no plans to build new streets or highway ramps to feed cars into the proposed 33-acre development.
Instead, city and Crew officials expect most soccer fans to leave their cars at existing parking facilities in the Arena District and walk about 15 minutes from parking, as far as a mile away, near the Greater Columbus Convention Center. Google Maps estimates that walk to be more like 20 minutes to the new 20,000-seat stadium.
“They don’t expect and don’t want a lot of cars over there," said Jennifer Gallagher, director of the city’s Department of Public Service. "They really want to make it much more of a pedestrian, open plaza-type area and give it much more of a pedestrian feel. We're really focusing on pedestrians, bikes, versus a lot of cars coming in and out.”Join the conversation at Facebook.com/columbusdispatch and connect with us on Twitter @DispatchAlerts
That would include wide sidewalks on Nationwide Boulevard and bike facilities, such as a planned bridge that would span the Olentangy River to connect the Olentangy Trail with Nationwide Boulevard, she said.
“One of the unique and important parts of Crew fandom is the hours that we spend together before the game at the giant, existing parking lot at Mapfre Stadium," said Morgan Hughes, a leader in the Save the Crew movement, adding that he's confident fans will adapt. "It’s going to be different for sure at the new stadium.”
Columbus committed to spending about $50 million as part of the plan to keep Major League Soccer in Columbus. About $20 million of that is for infrastructure around the new stadium and proposed development. The rest is set aside for a community sports park that would includes the current Mapfre Stadium off Interstate 71 on the north side of the state fairgrounds.
The city hired OHM Advisors last month to lead the design of the infrastructure improvements on an accelerated timeline that would allow work to start in early 2020. That contract could be worth as much as $1.5 million.
Once the planned location for a casino, the Crew site sits west of Huntington Park on the north side of Nationwide Boulevard.
It is largely sequestered from other access, though, by geography and other development. The Olentangy River runs along its western boundary, and CSX rail lines border it to to the east. White Castle’s new headquarters development and I-670seperate the site from Goodale Boulevard to the north.
Connect Realty’s Municipal Light and Power development, refashioned as an auction house and office space, stands between the site and Route 33.
That leaves few options for building streets into the area. A connector street originally envisioned to link West Nationwide to Spring Street was taken out of the most recent plan, Gallagher said. That leaves Hocking and Hanover streets as connections between Nationwide and Spring.
“The big thing is going to be that we need to make sure we have adequate parking on that end of the Arena West District,” said Brad DeHays, founder of Connect Realty. “I think with regards to any kind of housing, office and the stadium, there’s going to have to be some parking facility installed down there in close proximity.”
Gallagher said plans for the site change regularly because the city is moving quickly to be ready for the stadium, expected to break ground this summer. Under the most recent plan, the stadium would sit on the east side of the development. The plan now shows one parking garage west of the stadium, with a road looping around it.
No final decisions have been made about whether to include a parking garage onsite, Gallagher said. But it almost certainly wouldn’t have enough parking to serve the stadium.
Mapfre Stadium has about 5,000 parking spaces available at the state fairgrounds, with other parking available for overflow, a state spokeswoman said.
The Crew's new owners estimate that there are 12,200 parking spaces within a 15-minute walk of the new stadium site. West of Front Street in the Arena District, they estimate there are 10,700 spaces within a 12½-minute walk.
“The expectation is that folks coming to the Crew stadium will use the parking that they currently use for hockey games and baseball games and other needs over on that side of the Arena District,” Gallagher said.
In the spring and fall, the district could have events at Nationwide Arena, Huntington Park and Crew stadium all at once, too. Collectively, those three venues can hold nearly 50,000 people.
The Confluence Village development that is proposed for construction around the new stadium is expected to have 885 residential units and 270,000 square feet of commercial and office space for up to 1,300 employees as well.
Crew owners are working with the city on traffic and parking solutions, and they can work with the National Hockey League and Minor League Baseball to minimize schedule conflicts, said Peter John-Baptiste, a spokesman for the Cleveland Browns, whose owners are part of the group that purchased the Crew.
“It’s something leagues definitely take into consideration,” he said.