Walk down High St. and it doesn’t take long to notice the seemingly endless construction. Land that was just recently occupied by bars, restaurants and vacant storefronts have been replaced by the sights and sounds of jack hammers, buzz saws and bulldozers. So far, all of this work has been concentrated to the eastern side of High St. between 15th and 17th Aves. However, this could change with a proposed Arts District Master Plan, which would bring renovations to the western side, which includes the Wexner Center for the Arts and the Mershon Auditorium.
The plan, which was approved by Ohio State’s Board of Trustees in April 2016, defines the final goals of the project and gives some clues as to how the university plans to achieve them.
“The Master Plan lays the foundation for future work, but is also contingent upon identifying funding, for which we continue to work with individual colleges in an effort to prioritize projects,” Dan Hedman, spokesman for the Office of Administration and Planning, says.
One such project is the renovation of Mershon Auditorium. Plans for the project show that the lobby space for the building will be renovated and the entrance will be redesigned and moved closer to High St. However, the biggest changes come to the auditorium itself, where the number of seats will be reduced. Currently, the space seats 2,500 people, but the redesigned space will seat 1,400. Most of the seats that will be removed are on the second-level balcony of the auditorium and have less than desirable views. Documents show that the space that is currently used for these seats will be redesigned to house the new Moving Image Production Program, which is set to be introduced in 2017 and will prepare students for careers in filmmaking. The program will partner with the Wexner Center for the Arts, also referred to as the Wex, and allow students to apply what they learn in the classroom to hands-on studio work. As a result, the Master Plan also calls for studio space, a screening room and post-production lab space to be constructed in the Arts District, including in Mershon.
Another major change to the Arts District is the relocation of the Department of Theatre to the eastern portion of the site which faces High St. The theater department is currently predominantly housed across campus in the Drake Union, which is located on Cannon Dr.
“The goal is to relocate it closer to the other academic arts programs, creating programmatic synergies which will foster collaboration and efficiently use resources,” Hedman says.
Documents for the Arts District project also propose constructing a smaller 500-seat theater in the new Arts District which would be used for music, opera and theater performances. Weigel Hall, which is located adjacent to the Wex will and currently houses the School of Music, will also be renovated. Hedman said the current plan recommends the addition of more rehearsal space as well as the construction of a 250-seat recital hall adjacent to Weigel Hall.
The plan also integrates the Arts District with the redevelopment across High St. in the area formerly occupied by Long’s Bookstore. The eastern side of High St. is currently being redeveloped as part of a project led by OSU-affiliated developer Campus Partners, as well as private developers to add more apartments and retail to the block. On the corner of 15th and High St., Campus Partners is planning to construct a public plaza. Ohio State hopes to create a “cohesive connection” between the plaza on the eastern side of High Street and the Arts District on the western side.
Documents from early on in the planning stages of the project also show that Ohio State hopes the addition of these facilities in the Arts District will allow for more unique and engaging types of arts programming on campus in order to benefit both students and the Columbus community.
“By bringing units physically closer to each other, we capitalize on the possibilities of integrated research, creative work and collaborative teaching,” the plans reads.
Hedman said the Arts District master plan allows Ohio State to think holistically .
“Ohio State is pleased to be able to think comprehensively about how the Arts District can contribute to a true connection between the university and the community at 15th and High Streets while prioritizing and supporting arts and the academic mission,” Hedman says.
Ultimately, the Arts District Master Plan is a long-term project, and parts of it are still contingent on the university and its respective colleges identifying funding. But when completed, it will house new academic programs and allow for more arts programming for both campus and the Columbus community.
Featured image from Opertoon.com