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Decade in Review: Community

Jeni Ruisch

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Decade of Change: Downtown’s Development

Cover image: Sarah Moore

Scrolling through social media rarely turns up much intellectual fuel. But clickbait articles can be so tempting. Especially when you see yourself in them. That’s why, if you’re anything like me, you nearly always click on the titles naming or alluding to our dear capital city.

“Why Columbus, Ohio is one of the top places to live in 2020.”

“This hidden Midwestern gem might be a place you’d like to call home.”

Digital junk food presented coyly to play (prey) on your sense of self and place. Gets me every time.

Photo: Brian Kaiser

As someone who has lived here nearly my entire life, I have a sense of obstinate pride about Columbus. I’m quick to point out that we have huge hubs of industry and business, teaching and research juggernauts, beautiful parks, a rich history, and an insistence that we DO have a fashion scene, if you’d only look for it.

But the truth is, Columbus is an established city that is still groping for something that would make us memorable to the rest of the country. This city is nothing if not in flux. Constant construction, new restaurants by the day, new events planned and held with the hope of becoming an annual tradition. And some changes are more physical than temporal, with no place seeing more renaissance than the heart of the downtown area.

When I was a kid, downtown equaled ghost town. Before the cap was built over 670, that space separated the Short North from the barren wasteland of What Came South. There was only a bridge with a tiny strip of concrete on either side for foot traffic. Now there is a seamless continuity to High Street, and you can window shop and eat your way from Worthington to German Village.

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The downtown core used to be devoid of life after the 9 to 5 workers went home. Cramped and crowded during the bookends of rush hour, with only a quick bustle of lunch between, and then the sidewalks seemingly rolled up, and out went the lights. Restaurants in this part of town were unheard of in the dinner hour, save for a few ancient stalwarts. There was no music or other entertainment. And certainly no one lived there.

In the open void of space between the time City Center closed, and the drums of revitalization began to beat, there were only little pockets of life and commerce.

But now.

Oh, now every inch is established. Buildings are shooting up into the sky like the old part of the city once called “Flytown”—so named because the buildings seemed to fly up over night. Anything not already built up seems to be in planning stages. But this isn’t a brand new circumstance. The last decade has seen a wave of change wash over Columbus.

In 2011, while the water in the rivers still ran swift and muddy, the city opened the Scioto Mile in anticipation of huge changes to the river itself that would take years to engineer and complete. After a restructuring of the physical bed, the flow of the river is now widened and slowed, with habitat for wildlife, and space for recreation under the skyline. Now kayakers dot the glassy summer surface of the water, and once-disappeared animals like otters and rainbow darters have returned to the renewed ecosystem.

That same year saw the completion of the Columbus Commons, a now-staple performance and gathering place in walking distance for not only the commuters to the big corporations downtown, but those that have chosen to dwell there.

The Metro Parks continued their upgrade with the 2013 expansion of Scioto Audubon. The former police impound lot now boasts a boat dock, climbing wall, paved greenways, maintained ponds, event spaces, dog parks, sand volleyball, and more. There is no shortage of outdoor adventure available here, even if you live in a luxury highrise.

In 2015 and 2016, Columbus saw advancement on the intellectual front with the new wing of the Columbus Museum of Art, and renovations to the historic downtown library. Last year, the new Vets Memorial rose from the ashes where its predecessor once stood. Our historic and beloved LeVeque Tower now houses apartments, a luxury hotel, and one of the best bar/restaurants in the whole city.

“Progress” is a fickle word when rising housing prices push out established low income communities. But the area west of 315 is seeing hopeful change coming down the line after the dissolution of the city’s flawed vice unit, and plans for a safe house for sex workers along the Sullivant corridor. Progress giveth, and progress taketh away.

The area around COSI is slated for a huge upheaval in the next several years, as the long-empty lots and lawns there will soon house (even more) luxury housing, and walkable shops.

Long time residents have seen head-spinning changes happen in the last decade that simply are not possible in longer-established metro areas. Columbus continues to evolve at a rapid pace, simply put, because it has the room to grow.

Like a middle schooler trying on ridiculous hairdos, searching for their signature style, Columbus has a chip on its shoulder about establishing a widely recognized identity.

But the truth is, we’re a work in progress.
And progress is something we have in spades.

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People

The Interview Issue: Arnold Sports Festival Co-Founder Jim Lorimer

Mike Thomas

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Each January, we feature the movers and shakers of the city in in-depth, in-person interviews that dig into their backgrounds, their plans, and what ties them to the capital city. While our interview issue subjects are all Columbus-based, their stories are universal. So settle in, cozy up, and give yourself some you-time. You’ll want to read every word.

As a trailblazer in sports promotion, Jim Lorimer has opened doors for countless athletes.

The unassuming exterior of the Arnold Classic Worldwide headquarters does nothing to betray the treasure trove of riches within. Inside the nondescript beige building in a Worthington office park are countless trophies and awards, depictions of Arnold Schwarzenegger from his bodybuilding heydey rendered in both oil and bronze, and more than one sword from the 1980s big- screen adventure Conan the Barbarian.

More impressive than any of these material things is the history this place represents, the far-reaching impact of which could never be contained by four walls. It is where the keeper of that history can sometimes be found— the one who lived and shaped it, along with countless lives around the world and over many decades.

At 93 years of age, Arnold Sports Festival Co-Founder Jim Lorimer still works seven days a week. To say that he’s accomplished a lot in his time is a massive understatement.

“I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of opportunities,” the effussive and humble Lorimer says of his many achievements. He’s the kind of person who you can speak with for an hour and still only scratch the surface of his story. Details that could serve as the focus for an entire profile—his having served as the mayor and vice mayor of Worthington for 52 years, for example—come and go almost as footnotes.

Among his varied accomplishments, a few stand out. A successful career in high school athletics as a champion of track and field and captain of the football team. A stint in the US Navy, then on to law school, followed by a role with the FBI. More than any of these things, one feat stands above the rest in Lorimer’s estimation.

Photos: Brian Kaiser

“I’ve had an opportunity to do a number of things, and have enjoyed them all. But the most rewarding of all is what happened with the Arnold Sports Festival,” he said.

Featuring 22,000 athletes from 80 nations representing more than 80 sports, the Arnold Sports Classic is Columbus’ signature event— in athletics or otherwise—as well as the largest multi-sport event in the world. (For a sense of scale, around 14,000 athletes took part in the 2016 Summer Olympics and 2018 Winter Olympics combined).

While competitions at “The Arnold” showcase the best of sportsmanship and healthy competition, the event as we know it would never have happened if not for a war—the Cold War, to be exact. That, and an exceptional group of teenage girls.

“During my years in the FBI in the 1950s, I was involved in the intelligence field. In that period, the big challenge was the Soviet Union, and I was interviewing communists all the time,” Lorimer recalls. “The communists were reasonably intelligent people, but they would insist with me that the communist system was superior, and that we were going to be living

under that system in the future. Of course, I did not agree with them on that.”

Throughout this era with its highly- contentious geopolitical climate, sporting contests were just one of the many venues in which the USSR would attempt to showcase the supposed superiority of its way of life. In the 1950s, the communists began to recruit a strong body of athletic talent who were trained at a professional level in their various sports for the sole purpose of dominating the West in athletic competition.

In 1959, American athletes faced off against the elite talent of the Soviet Union at an event in Philadelphia. By then, Lorimer was out of the FBI and had moved on to an executive position at the Nationwide Insurance Company in Columbus. A lifelong sports fan and a curious observer of communist tactics, Lorimer travelled to Philly to watch the proceedings in person.

“The U.S. men, because of their great interscholastic program, managed to beat the Soviet track and field athletes, even though they had been training essentially as professionals for almost a decade,” Lorimer remembers of the event.

The women’s competition was another story.

“In the high jump, for instance, the woman representing the United States was doing what we call the ‘scissors’ high jump. That’s where you just sort of step over the bar, like in grade school,” Lorimer explains. “The Soviet girl was doing what was in the Western rule, and she jumped almost a full foot higher than the U.S. girl.”

At the conclusion of the weekend’s events, scores of the women’s and men’s teams were combined. The Soviet’s totals narrowly edged out those of the US team. The next day, Philadelphia inquirer published a headline that went out across the globe: “Soviet Team Beats U.S.”

Lorimer knew that the U.S.S.R. would use this win to trumpet the superiority of communism, when in reality, it was only a result of female athletes in the US lacking the training needed to compete.

“I said, ‘I could find a girl right here in Worthington and show her immediately how to jump higher than that girl on the U.S. team,’” Lorimer recalls. And he did just that.

Lorimer contacted a friend who happened to be the Worthington track coach, and asked him to identify the best 14 or 15-year-old female track athlete. The coach pointed him to a student named Melissa Long, a girl who raced against (and beat) male track competitors in her age group.

When Lorimer contacted Long about training for track and field events at the national level, the young woman jumped at the opportunity. From there, he mined the top female talent from a Junior Olympic competition put on by the Columbus recreation department at The Ohio State University, and the Ohio Track Club was born.

“As I contacted them and their families, the reaction was the same as it had been when I contacted Melissa,” recalls Lorimer. “Here was a girl who didn’t have a chance to express herself athletically at all, and they were in heaven that somebody wanted them to come and compete.”

And compete they did, winning numerous meets on the 1960s indoor track circuit across the east coast. “In New York, the main indoor meet is the Millrose Games. These girls were winning—they won the Millrose Games, they won everywhere they went,” Lorimer said.

Lorimer’s success with the fledgling squad eventually led to his appointment as a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee for Women’s Athletics, which he would go on to chair. For his proven sports promotion acumen, he was later tapped to organize the National Weightlifting Competition at Veterans Memorial in 1967, and then the “Mr. World” Competition in 1970, which added the draw of a bodybuilding competition to a traditional weightlifting meet.

That first Mr. World event brought a young Austrian phenom to Columbus, and the rest is history. Impressed with Lorimer’s skills as an event runner and promoter, Schwarzenegger vowed to return to Columbus upon his retirement from competition and partner with him for an event that would raise the profile of bodybuilding to a global audience. The two came together over a handshake deal that would create the foundation for the Arnold Sports Festival as we know it today.

Through his decades of achievement in a landmark event that has helped shape the lives of countless athletes from across the globe, Lorimer has never forgotten where it all started. Every five years, he reunites with the group of special women who made up the first Ohio Track Club team, whose achievements paved the way for generations of female athletes to follow and who served as the forebears of Title IX legislation that guarantees equal treatment for female athletes to this day.

“They were 15 and now they’re all age 75. Every one of those girls graduated from college, and they have six master’s degrees, three PhDs and one Harvard Law School graduate,” Lorimer says with pride. “They all tell me that the most significant opportunity they had was the opportunity to express themselves competitively. That sports experience affected their lives, and that’s what still drives us, that we’re affecting so many lives. If you have 22,000 athletes coming in, that means a lot to our community and it’s a lot of kids learning the important lessons you get from something like sports.”

Lorimer sums up one of those important lessons: “The primary lesson of sports that is also true in life: you get back pretty much in proportion to what you put in.” Coming from someone who has achieved what Jim Lorimer has in his lifetime, it’s advice worth taking.

To learn more about the history of the Arnold Sports Festival and for details on its upcoming events in 2020, visit arnoldsportsfestival.com.

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Arts & Culture

The Interview Issue: Artist Ann Hamilton

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Each January, we feature the movers and shakers of the city in in-depth, in-person interviews that dig into their backgrounds, their plans, and what ties them to the capital city. While our interview issue subjects are all Columbus-based, their stories are universal. So settle in, cozy up, and give yourself some you-time. You’ll want to read every word.

Artist Ann Hamilton ensures her viewers are not passive bystanders.

Sometime this week, this month, you might receive an envelope in the mail, nestled among the barrage of holiday gifts and well-wishing cards from family and friends.

You open it to find not a family picture or holiday greeting, but a dated photographic scan of a single fallen leaf. It appears stark on the page: quietly elegant, strangely canonized, its veins and creases made beautiful after being blasted with light.

This scan would represent a small part of Columbus-based artist Ann Hamilton’s project when an object reaches for your hand, an interactive installation currently on display at OSU’s Thompson Library. The work encourages viewers to take pieces from the exhibit that Hamilton has created and share them with one another.

Hamilton, a professor in the OSU Department of Art, is also undeniably one of the most prominent and lauded names in the world of contemporary art. With a portfolio that includes decades-worth of large scale multimedia installations and other work, the Ohio-born artist has earned herself coveted Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellowships, among countless other honors.

Photos: Brian Kaiser

Because of this, Hamilton could likely call any place in the world home. Yet she chooses to do so in Columbus, where she now both teaches and operates out of her locally-based studio.

“You know, you don’t really know the consequences of those decisions at the time, but I can really see how being here, having that family support, the economy of Columbus, being able to have this space, and my affiliation with the university; all those things have led to my being able to develop practice that responds to a lot of different forms of work, and I’ve really been tremendously supported. The way that I’ve been able to pursue projects has been a consequence of all that support,” she said.

“When I moved here, Columbus wasn’t one of the “move-to” cities; people were asking me what I was doing. Sometimes what’s good for you is also good for the work and I have to trust that will be the case.”

Hamilton’s when an object reaches for your hand, displayed as part of Here, a recent exhibit at the Wexner Center for the Arts that also featured pieces from artists Jenny Holzer and Maya Lin, shows the benefits of this support in more ways than one.

“We have a fabulous public and university library system. When I was invited to do the new project at the Wexner, I was also already thinking about doing a project in the library,” she said. “You know, partly, ever since the library opened, I’ve always thought about that vertical glass spine where you can see the stacks, and the two sides of that is this amphitheater space, inviting sociability, inviting potential performance.”

Using outdated scanners, some likely nearing 30 years old, Hamilton and her studio team scanned hundreds of different items over the course of nine months from personal and university collections, which were then printed on details paper and stacked on irregularly-arranged platforms throughout the library’s second floor.

Due to the scanners’ age and shallow depth of field, the images created by them (which often featured unique or rarely-seen items), became ghostly, and quietly beautiful in their own right.

But Hamilton’s work is about more than just the acts of crafting and display. Visitors to when an object reaches for your hand are more than static viewers; they play an integral role in the work itself.

Each person who sees the show is invited to take one of the scans displayed in stacks throughout Thompson Library, either to keep for themselves, or to mail to a friend or family member via a mailing station at the installation.

In this way, the work becomes a platform for connectivity, for people to share the things that move or matter to them. In the same way that Ohio State and the private collectors Hamilton worked with shared their prized items with her, viewers are able to do the same with whomever they choose.

“Everyone I talked to was so helpful; people want to share what they love and what they take care of. What an incredible gift that is. We were able to wander in and out of so many different parts of the university. I would say the piece isn’t so much site-specific; it’s just responsive to what is here, to that spirit of wanting to share,” Hamilton said. “This is why the mailing is so important, wanting to share what comes forward in the collection. When you mail something, it’s still carried by hand; the address is written out by hand. And that’s also about touch, and touch is what’s made visible through light in the images.”

This sense of community and shared details is also apparent in how Hamilton manages her Columbus studio. Located in an unassuming but spacious building just south of downtown, Hamilton both works out of the building and uses it to host collective dinners, where visiting artists and speakers are able to interact with invited OSU arts faculty members and students.

“The events get set up and everybody sits together and it’s a beautiful meal. We have candles, wonderful food, and I think it’s part of what we do through positions at the university,” she said. “It’s a chance for people to actually be in conversation. Like, for example, with the architecture of our art program, there really isn’t social space, and so I hope in some part this addresses that.”

And even though Hamilton is now one of the figures firmly entrenched in the canon of contemporary American Art, it wasn’t a vocation that she necessarily saw coming.

In fact, she couldn’t recall a moment that she said to herself that she wanted to be an artist; she simply made art. “There’s some large gap between recognizing you love something and calling yourself something. I just grew up loving making things, and I had a ton of support from my family,” she said.

Hamilton has learned from her adventures, and as a professor, has opportunities to share her wisdom. “It was never a straight road,” she said, “but I always tell my students: do what you love.

Hamilton’s when an object reaches for your hand is on view in Ohio State’s Thompson Library through April 28. Learn more at annhamiltonstudio.com.

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Community

The Interview Issue: Community Leader Habiba Bankston

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Each January, we feature the movers and shakers of the city in in-depth, in-person interviews that dig into their backgrounds, their plans, and what ties them to the capital city. While our interview issue subjects are all Columbus-based, their stories are universal. So settle in, cozy up, and give yourself some you-time. You’ll want to read every word.

Habiba Bankston helps her colleagues at L Brands give back while building a pipeline for leadership in Columbus.

Habiba Bankston likes to say Brooklyn raised her, but Columbus groomed her. New York City taught her how to hustle, how to envision something and make it happen, how to fearlessly embrace new experiences.

But in Columbus, she learned how to slow down, master her craft and take time to develop her untapped potential. What she discovered was that her potential involved helping others.

“The people that I’ve met here, [they’ve] just kind of unlocked some things in me that I really didn’t know was there,” she said.

Bankston, now a senior community relations specialist for L Brands, brings both of those backgrounds to her work every day. Philanthropy for her isn’t just the work she does; it’s who she is. And the blend of visionary entrepreneurship she absorbed in New York along with a deep dedication to community and service have enabled her to build networks and communities designed to nurture a new generation of young professional leadership in Columbus.

An illness that sparked action

When Bankston was 17, she had a stroke.

Bankston was born with sickle cell disease, a group of inherited red blood cell disorders that affect hemoglobin in the blood, distorting cells into a crescent shape instead of a donut shape. The crescent red blood cells can stick in blood vessels and reduce oxygen to parts of the body. The resulting symptoms can be severe fatigue and pain.

Sickle cell, which is hereditary and most commonly affects African Americans, is what Bankston calls a “silent disease” because it’s often not obvious at first glance when someone has it. Growing up with the illness caused Bankston to miss school, and she was hospitalized two-to- three times a month.

She didn’t want to let that slow her down, however. As she searched for role models who had experienced similar health challenges, she came across Wilma Rudolph, an Olympic sprinter who contracted polio as a child and needed a leg brace until she was 12.

Photos: Brian Kaiser

“When I was growing up, there wasn’t a lot of people who had sickle cell that were well known, that really talked about what that experience looked like,” Bankston said. “I was constantly searching for models of people who were dealing [with disabilities but] [...] were still able to thrive and chase their dreams.”

Blood transfusions ultimately transformed Bankston’s ability to manage her sickle cell. They help increase the percent of healthy red blood cells in her body, reducing the symptoms of the disease. She’s been receiving one every month for 15 years.

“(As a) regular recipient of blood donations, I have been touched by the power of community and of philanthropy,” Bankston said. “My life has been sustained by the generous gifts and donations from people who are simply committed to being a blessing to others, so it’s no coincidence that I find myself doing this work.”

Pathways to Leadership

Bankston hasn’t always known that philanthropy was a good fit for her. When she was in college at Ohio State, she studied human nutrition and public health with the idea of going into healthcare. She was a very involved student, and one year while she was organizing the African American Heritage Festival, she met with then-Senior Vice President for Outreach and Engagement Joyce Beatty—now a U.S. Representative—who became another role model and mentor for Bankston.

“She saw a leader in me before I saw it in myself,” Bankston said. “She introduced me to the beauty of Columbus and instilled in me that it’s not enough to live and work in a community, but that we must be present, involved and engaged in the growth and progress of the places that we call home.”

That started Bankston on the career path of community engagement and philanthropy, eventually landing her at L Brands. There, she oversees the company’s foundation, community and giving campaigns that support organizations like Pelotonia and United Way, as well as volunteerism.

But Bankston’s work doesn’t stop there. She also co- founded the Columbus Urban League Young Professionals in 2015, a networking group largely for people of color, with the goal of building a strong pipeline of future leaders and connecting young professionals within Columbus and also across the nation. Further, she serves as an appointed Create Columbus Commissioner, dedicating her time to supporting young professionals in the city and making Columbus a welcoming and supportive place for them to call home.

Finally, she took her experience with sickle cell disease and founded Beyond the Cell, a national movement to create awareness about the disease. Other young people living with sickle cell seeking role models reflecting their experience, as Bankston once did, need look no futher than her Instagram campaign.

Building community ties

Bankston first saw the power of community support and networks as a child in Brooklyn. Her parents came to the U.S. with a few other families from Ghana, and like many immigrant communities, she was surrounded by entrepreneurs. Her father owned an African market in one of the busiest areas of Brooklyn, and Bankston says she and her family were always trying to find new ways to uplift their community.

“As we had more and more family members that came from Africa, we were constantly trying to find new ways to either help them find employment [or] help them get connected,” she said.

Her mom moved her and her three siblings to Columbus when Bankston was 15, where she later graduated from Independence High School.

She says today that she hopes young professionals remember their ability to make a difference in their community and stay committed to achieving the changes they want to see.

“Don’t be afraid to create the things that you wish existed,” Bankston said. “Columbus is a piece of art in the making. YPs are shaping the future of this city. [...]There’s so much opportunity and there’s so many people who are probably thinking the same thing that you’re thinking. [...] So be fearless and create it.”

For Bankston, that admiration for fearlessness is reflected in Michelle Obama. She says she adores her for her intelligence, grace and creativity, but that she most admires her honesty and authenticity.

“I always want to show up as honest and as authentic as possible. Every single day, every single room that I step in, I want people to truly be able to see me,” Bankston said. “[Obama’s] never been afraid to tell us what she’s been through as a young black girl, but also as a first lady. She’s a woman on a mission. She’s never been afraid to write her own stories.”

Through her work in Columbus and nationally, Bankston is helping others do the same.

Follow Bankston on Instagram at futureflotus, and join her sickle cell disease awareness campaign on Instagram at beyondthecell.

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