The historic “Old Trolley Barn” complex on the northeast corner of Oak Street and Kelton Avenue, near the renowned Franklin Park and Franklin Park Conservatory & Botanical Gardens (a landmark structure on the National Register of Historic Places), has significant historical heritage and value. The buildings on the Old Trolley Barn’s 3-acre site were built between 1880 and 1920 serving the city’s trolley system for decades. The local community takes great pride in their Franklin Park neighborhood, including having hosted the commemorative, international, quincentenary event “AmeriFlora 92” in 1992, from which many of the extensive landscaping and expansion renovations remain in place today at Franklin Park and the Conservatory.
The Old Trolley Barn site contains several historic and extraordinary brick buildings, two of which developers plan to save and restore with any new usage of the site. Following are descriptions of each building and/or section of the Trolley Barn site and surrounding areas:
- The building on the corner of Kelton and Oak – the Trolley Barn, which appears to be in somewhat better condition than the other buildings on the property, could likely be restored for commercial use, with minimal demolition and hopefully minimal costs for restoration.
- There appear to be four buildings in the center of the property, with one that is in fairly decent condition (located directly on Oak Street).
- Remaining is a large building on the east end of the site in fair condition aside from the large hole in the ceiling in the center of the building.
- The property is in a (largely) single-family residential area and as previously mentioned is bordered by the 88-acre Franklin Park and Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens one block north.
- Bordered on the south side by Oak Street, where there is also a parallel green space (approximately one acre in size – which, side bar – would be an excellent location for a community garden or dog park!)
- Kelton Avenue borders the Trolley Barn site to the west and is a one-way street flowing northbound (with a dedicated bike lane). It is worth noting that Kelton Avenue does have its own exit off of Interstate 70 (several blocks south) which would allow versatile access; however, the one-way restriction of Kelton Avenue will likely cause some minor traffic concerns with the expected traffic increase in this area after the refurbishment is completed.
After evaluating the neighborhood by car and on foot, and speaking with two locals who without hesitation (and/or coaching from any members of our group) expressed their heartfelt desires for this site to be transformed into a community-oriented facility (with a swimming pool), serving local residents of all ages with free (or very affordable) fitness and recreational activities.
- “Bernice”, a mature African American female, who works at a local, minority-focused business was very passionate about the need for a swimming pool in this area, having lived in the area her entire life. She pointed out that the only other pool in the area is at Maryland Park and that the pool there is too small and unfit for community enjoyment. Bernice also conveyed a plea for a recreational facility serving both children and adults, with a special need to address the lack of activities for senior citizens in this area.
- Local resident, “Danette” – a 50-something year old Caucasian female, was quick to point out that the site has been an eye-sore for much too long and that this neighborhood would embrace a community center. She envisions an initiative that would appeal to people of all ages and cultures, bonding them together, to learn from each other and develop life-long bonds – as friends and as a prideful community. Danette spoke of the important role this center could play in the lives of the teens attending East High School.
Both of the interviewed residents had passionate ideas completely in alignment with the proposal being recommended by the Urban Avengers.
Footprints and Site Plans
Our idea for the new development would be branded as “The Trolley Commons.” Our initial plans were simple, and after several consultations Urban Avengers created site footprints which led to the following restorations, additions and demolitions:
- The western most building at the corner of Kelton and Oak (believed to be the original Trolley Barn) would house small business office space and a small historical museum-type welcome center.
- Directly north of this building would stand a newly built, state-of-the art community recreational center, targeting all age groups. The community center building would be L-shaped housing indoor half-court basketball courts, fitness and weightlifting areas, community rooms (similar to classrooms with at least one kitchen for healthy nutrition and cooking classes), an indoor walking area, and a swimming pool which would be both indoor and outdoor as weather dictates. A similar type facility is pictured below:
- The community rooms will offer both educational and inspirational classes surrounding hobbies, self-improvement to support heathy ideals, self-defense, life skills, and crafts.
- This building will also house a small display of the history of the property and its significance. The main purpose of this community center is to promote healthy living for local residents of all ages and cultural backgrounds.
- It is our recommendation that the community center be operated by the City of Columbus in order to make it financially accessible to all people. One member of our group suggested the community center could honor and be named after current (and out-going) Mayor Michael B. Coleman who has had a significant positive impact on the City of Columbus during his 15 years as mayor.
- The eastern-most building is recommended to be kept and repurposed. The southern end of this building would be home to a farmer’s market, hosting Ohio grown produce, fruit and other healthy food options to build on encouraging a healthy lifestyle for the entire community. While it would be of a small scale, it would be the only healthy alternative located in this neighborhood.
- Urban Avengers also envisions another community-driven initiative that would utilize the eastern building and fill a huge void for this area, by bringing a senior citizens’ recreation center to serve the surrounding neighborhoods. Some ideas for the senior center could include:
- Healthy cooking and baking sessions;
- Crafts such as quilting and art;
- Mentoring youth (perhaps partnering with local East High School and Columbus Preparatory School for Girls);
- Tap Dancing;
- Sharing and recording memoirs (especially important for memorializing local history from those seniors who are native to the area);
- Music lessons (both given and taken by seniors); and
- Financial and retirement advocacy.
- With extremely limited restaurant options in this area, the southern-most central building will be kept and repurposed as a café. The café will be a small, locally owned company featuring healthy food options, beverages, and a small outdoor seating area to enjoy the beauty of the area during pleasant and clement weather seasons.
- Lastly, the remaining centrally located buildings, deemed unsalvageable, will be leveled to pave way for the community swimming pool, and to provide ample parking to support the community center, offices, senior center, and market. The parking areas will be largely concealed from street view, behind buildings and a greenery of trees and shrubs on the Oak Street side of the property.
Urban Avengers’ objective for “The Trolley Commons” is to build and support a healthy, informed, and involved community in the area of Franklin Park, maintaining historic elements that attribute to the integrity and pride of the citizens who live and work there.