Fun With Cooking Oil in an Abandoned Factory
From the Columbus Alive, May 10, 2001

A Factory Closing Renews Pleas for a Riverfront Park in Harrison West

May 10, 2001
By J. Caleb Mozzocco

For most of the 20th century, a manufacturing plant dominated the southwestern section of the Harrison West neighborhood, but the factory didn't make it very far into the 21st. Last summer, Memphis-based edible oil producer AC Hunko Corp. announced that it would be closing the plant, and the early weeks of May saw the end of the months-long phase-out.

With the 310,000 square-foot plant finally closed, the city and local residents are left wondering what will become of the the 13.5-acre parcel of land and hoping its future will complement their vision for the future of the area.

Jack Straton, executive vice president for Humko, said local brokers NIAWelsh will handle the marketing and sale of the site, which is still in the very early stages.

"We're open to all potential uses for the land. We're not limiting ourselves," Straton said. "There has been a wide range of interested parties, from people who would use the site in a similar format to people who would like to redevelop the site for totally different types of uses."

It's the latter that Harrison West residents and the city of Columbus would like to see, and Stratton said most of the interest expressed has so far come from developers interested in a new, mixed use for the site.

Keith Dimoff, president of the Harrison West Society, a group of about 100 area homeowners who represent the interests of the 25-block neighborhood's 1,100 residents, says the society has a pretty clear vision of what they would and would not like to see happen with the industrial site.

"There are a couple things we know that we don't want," Dimoff said. "We don't want new manufacturing here. We're very happy manufacturing ended here. Also, we don't want any development like condos right along the riverbank. We do want that area to be redeveloped, in a mixed-use development of residential and commercial."

The Humko Plant, which is perched on the bank of the Olentangy, has prevented easy access to the river for area residents. Dimoff would like to see some green space and park space opened along the river, which would solve the residential area's severe lack of green space (Harrison West Park on Fourth and Oregon is a .35-acre pocket park, while 33-acre Goodale park is about a mile away.)

The Harrison West Society's hopes for the site are in line with the city's, which were outlined in the 1998 Riverfront Vision Plan, a community-wide undertaking that formulated guidelines for riverfront development over the next 20 years. The Harrison West part of the plan calls for a recreational trail along the riverfront, mixed-use development, and more green apace within a 15-acre block, most of which currently houses the Humko plant.

But the city was caught off guard by the plant's closure, and may not be financially prepared for the large purchase, even though it's an important piece of land for the riverfront plan. "No one really anticipated [Humko] would close so soon after the development of the plan, though certainly rumors always swirl," said Lori Baudro, project planner for riverfront development for the city.

"The difficulty in doing something like this, at least in the case of Humko, is that the city doesn't appear to be able to purchase it at this time," Baudro added, noting that this year's budget was a tight one.

Dimoff said he was sorry for the plant's workers, especially since it was once a big employer for area residents, but he won't miss having a factory for a neighbor. Soot and smoke from the smokestacks, imcreased truck traffic, and occasional bad smells all made the plant less than ideal.

While Humko is moving out of Harrison West, some of the factory's buildings will likely remain. The main production building and another building are both from the turn-of-the-century, and will likely be preserved no matter what happens on the parcel of land or to its numerous, warehouse-style buildings. "It's really very early in the discussion," Baudro said, pointing out that until the land is more aggressiely, no one will have a solid idea of what might happen to the site.

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