2016 National Planning Excellence Award: Implementation

Downtown Columbus Riverfront – City of Columbus and Columbus Downtown Development Corporation

Columbus, Ohio


Restoring the Scioto River provided more than just improving public access to the riverfront. It spurred community reinvestment and created five new downtown parks, removed two low-head dams, restored the riverfront ecosystem and revitalized adjacent neighborhoods. These investments have helped to grow downtown's residential population 108 percent since 2002.


The 1998 Riverfront Vision Plan established the community goals of creating a connected, active and healthy river system that was an asset to Central Ohio. The plan identified five objectives: contribute to the overall image of Columbus; become a destination and connective civic corridor; foster new development; enable community interaction; and improve the riparian environment. The plan's objectives were not only met, they achieved what other plans over the past 100 years had attempted to do – make the river a civic asset.

In total, 179 acres of new and renovated parkland has reconnected the public to the riverfront. Completed in 2011, the Scioto Mile is the centerpiece of the new riverfront park featuring a 15,000 square foot interactive fountain, performance space, restored balustrade, overlooks and inviting seating, and entertainment and dining areas. With the removal of the Fifth Avenue Dam on the Olentangy River and the Main Street Dam on the Scioto River downtown, there is now a navigable, recreation river corridor between the Ohio State University and Downtown Columbus. A brownfield was transformed into a 120-acre park that has been designated as an important bird area by the Audubon Society. The final piece of this riverfront revival is the Scioto Greenways that opened in the fall of 2015, creating 33 new acres of parkland in the heart of downtown along with a naturalized river channel and new riparian habitats.

Read about the plans that led to the transformation of the riverfront.

The Scioto Audubon Metro Park (2009) transformed the City Impound Lot into a 120-acre active urban greenspace, featuring a LEED-Gold certified Audubon Center and one of the largest outdoor climbing walls in the region. Photo by Randall L Schieber.


After the planning efforts of the late 1990s, the City of Columbus continued to revisit its planning goals and objectives. Over the years, a transparent planning process has encouraged broad public support and helped to increase the speed of implementation. Following the 2002 Downtown Strategic Business Plan, the City created the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation to implement projects and guide downtown improvements through public-private partnerships. The 2010 Downtown Columbus Strategic Plan set the stage for the final phase of riverfront improvements that opened this past fall. The most popular idea to emerge from that planning process, the restoration of the Scioto River downtown, garnered wide public and private support enabling strong partnerships to be formed. In the last decade and a half, partners have included: the State of Ohio; Franklin County and Franklin County Metro Parks; Audubon Ohio; the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission; the US and Ohio EPA; Ohio Department of Transportation; the Columbus Foundation; Battelle Memorial Institute; American Electric Power; Grange Insurance; and many more.

The Scioto Greenways (2015) has narrowed the river from 577' to 257', restoring habitat and creating an additional 33 additional acres of parkland downtown. Photo by Randall L. Schieber.


Planning for the riverfront enabled the city to achieve success beyond what was originally envisioned in the 1998 Riverfront Vision Plan. The City, Columbus Downtown Development Corporation and the private sector worked together to facilitate investment of over $127 million in 179 acres of new and renovated parkland. Millions of visitors now come to the riverfront annually and the transformation has triggered nearly $1.4 billion in additional private investments in the neighborhoods and urban districts that surround the Scioto River. The river and stream corridors are now unique Columbus assets.