Franklin County Metro Parks, in collaboration with Thrive Companies, is creating a unique Metropark and mixed-use development.
BY BEN UNDERWOOD, ’21.
Columbus Metroparks is currently developing its newest park, the Quarry Trails Park. The park, located West of Riverside Drive and North of Trabue Road, will be the closest Metropark to Upper Arlington.
“By building this park, we’re putting every person in Franklin County within five miles of a Metropark, which is one of our big long term goals as a park district,” said Park Manager Dan Kaderly, who was previously the park manager of the Scioto Audubon Metropark, a park that opened in 2009.
With waterfalls, lakes, bike trails, a 180 foot-tall cliff, a mountain biking trail, and spots to kayak, the park will be unlike any other metropark.
If all goes to plan, two sections of the park will open this fall Kaderly said: four white water kayak chutes and a mountain biking trail.
The mountain biking trail is currently about 80% complete and is being built by Sheckler Excavating, Kaderly said.
“You start at the top of the hill and there’s about seven routes you can choose from to go down, and as you go down, there’s ramps and jumps and obstacles,” Kaderly said. “It’s a little bit different than a regular mountain bike experience in that it’s all downhill for the most part, so you’re really using your speed to carry you through the course.”
There is also a dilapidated pioneer cemetery on the site of the park. It has about 25 visible headstones in various stages of disrepair.
“Right now we have a bunch of conceptual design plans for the cemetery—it could be anything from leaving it how it is today to restoring it,” Kaderly said. “We’re not going to move the cemetery or do anything like that, but probably some improvements [will be] made to get people access in the future into it, so that they can walk around and look.”
A plat map of the cemetery produced by the WPA in the early 20th century indicates that War of 1812 Veteran George Skidmore is buried within the cemetery, but his tombstone is not currently visible. Skidmore achieved the rank of captain, according to the Ohio Society United States Daughters of 1812.
One of the most unique aspects of the park is that a mixed-use development created by Thrive Companies will be directly integrated into the park.
Thrive Companies (formerly known as Wagenbrenner Development) was started by Mark and Eric Wagenbrenner in 2003. Since then, it has grown from “more of a mom and pop shop to a true company,” said Steve Bollinger, the company’s Executive Vice President of Development.
Thrive is building 43,000 square feet of office space, 293 apartments, about 18,000 square feet of retail, 100 townhome flats and 40 detached homes atop 80 acres of land. But that’s just in the first phase. Over the next seven to nine years, Thrive will build roughly a 1,000 to 1500 apartments, 300 detached homes and 280 townhomes if demand remains high, Bollinger said.
“We’re pretty bullish on starting the sales process,” Bollinger said. “We think a lot of people are going to want some homes.”
But this is more than a traditional construction job: the site of development was used as a landfill in the mid 19th century. According to an article published in the Columbus Dispatch, Upper Arlington—along with Grandview Heights, Hilliard, Worthing and Marble Cliff—used this landfill for waste disposal until its closure in June 1974. (Upper Arlington’s waste currently goes to the Franklin County Sanitary Landfill about 15 miles away.)
A publicly available letter from Trabue Dublin, LLC, to the Ohio EPA indicates that the site also contains hazardous industrial waste from Columbus Coated Fabrics, a company that has since gone out of business.
Building apartments atop a former landfill presents unique challenges. Landfills release gasses such as methane, which could explode if it is in high enough concentrations, and there could also be leakage of waste if preventative action is not taken.
Fortunately, Thrive Companies has experience working with brownfields, which are areas where hazardous materials make development more difficult. The company previously did brownfield remediation along Grandview Avenue and at other sites, Bollinger said.
“More or less what we do is we take up a 32,000 pound weight that is roughly the size of a queen- or king-sized bed and we just drop it,” Bollinger said. “Then we put on a 2 to 4 foot clay path to make sure that nothing migrates up through it.”
Throughout the entire process, Thrive Companies is doing tests and completing monthly reports to the Ohio EPA to ensure that fumes do not present an explosion risk. After construction is complete, Bollinger said that annual inspections and year-round monitoring will keep potential tenants safe.
“Each building will have a monitoring system,” Bollinger said. “Anytime that levels exceed what’s allowed and becomes a danger to individuals, the alarm will be going off, but at the same time, we’ll be doing yearly monitoring tracks to make sure that everything is operating correctly.”
“It’s been amazing to watch Thrive cap this landfill,” Kaderly said. “It’s been a long, long process to cap that landfill, years.”
Bollinger views the relationship between the Metroparks and Thrive as mutually beneficial.
“To activate a park, there’s nothing better than getting front doors on the park, and the best amenity we could ask for is the park itself,” Bollinger said. And Metroparks is benefitting because Thrive Companies is bringing in utility lines that Metroparks will be able to use.
The park will also serve as a hub of connectivity for bike trails. Upper Arlington Assistant City Manager Jackie Thiel said that there are plans for building a bike trail connection to the park from Upper Arlington.
The path will go from Asbury Road to Lane Avenue, and part of it will include a “sharrow” path where bikes will share the road with cars. The City of Upper Arlington obtained a grant from the State of Ohio that will account at least 80% of the estimated $300,000 price tag, Thiel said.
“We have all these ideas of how to make these connections, and once that demand is there, we can start to look at funding and what options are really feasible,” Thiel said. “But we see this as a huge draw for our residents, and our focus is really how to get them there by foot or bike to promote the active transportation and get kinda a recreational side to their life.”
One possibility that has been considered is putting a pedestrian tunnel underneath Riverside Drive, Thiel said. There may also be a new bridge built across the Scioto river or the Trabue Road bridge may be expanded to allow for more connectivity.
In the future, the bike trails will also connect to the larger network of bike trails across Ohio.
“You’ll be able to get on your bike and ride from here all the way to Cincinnati and back with 95% trail-use the whole time,” Kaderly said. “It’s pretty unique.”
With thousands of residents potentially moving in, traffic has been a concern for all involved parties. Thrive Companies is currently funding a long term traffic study to figure out the best way to provide access.
“There are major road considerations that are going to have to take place,” Thiel said. “That could include a new bridge over the Scioto or an additional connection to McKinley further south by Fifth Ave.”
Bollinger said that he sees these developments as something larger than just building new homes or a new park.
“I think with the City of Columbus, it could be almost a symbol for what we are,” Bollinger said. “We are [about] this connectivity, between all different neighborhoods, and we want people to activate these riverfronts that we already have.”
“This is a really good example of a lot of agencies and communities working together,” Thiel said. “It continues our focus on not just cars, but alternative modes of transportation, as well.”