Before Quarry Trails opened, Metro Parks director Tim Moloney told a volunteer there will be no “development done on top of the parks”
Grain silos

Not only have several major Columbus-based developers taken leadership roles for RAPID 5, but two major international developers are also playing a significant part in the reshaping of Central Ohio’s five major waterways and Metro Parks. AECOM, for example, which is helping design the newest Mall of Saudi (Riyadh North), has been tasked by RAPID 5 to envision the future for Alum Creek.

But a cursory look at AECOM’s future for Alum Creek (pictured above) suggests they will be more focused on East Main Street, specifically the stretch entering into Bexley and Capital University where the giant abandoned grain silos remain.

The American-based AECOM is referred to as a “global infrastructure consulting firm”. RAPID 5’s other major international firm is the Urban Land Institute (ULI), a research arm of the National Association of Realtors, with offices in Hong Kong and London. Those keeping a close eye on RAPID 5 have told the Free Press both ULI and MORPC (Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission) are the leadership behind RAPID 5.

Launched in 2019, and now led by Ohio pandemic hero Dr. Amy Acton, RAPID 5 has serious designs on all five of Central Ohio’s major north-to-south waterways: The Big Darby, the Scioto River, the Olentangy River, Alum Creek and the Big Walnut. RAPID stands for “Rivers and Parks Imagination Design” and has transformed into a private and public partnership, which includes the City of Columbus, OSU, Thrive Companies (a major local developer), Turner Construction, Nationwide Realty Investors, and The Columbus Foundation. 

To be clear, said RAPID 5 spokesperson Rochelle Young, the above AECOM proposal for East Main Street, which encompasses the historic Hanford Village, is a “vision” and not a “plan.”

“It is a look at what might be possible – it is not a plan or reflective of any current project taking place or currently moving forward,” Young told the Free Press.

Certainly, this area of East Main could use an infusion of ideas and investment. But RAPID 5, says an activist who has tirelessly tried to bring renewal to East Main Street in Columbus, hasn’t said a word to him.

“I haven’t heard anything about this. I’m very curious,” said Jonathan Beard, former president of the nonprofit Columbus Compact Corporation.

What’s more, local non-profit watershed groups (environmental stewards) were never asked to participate with the RAPID 5 design firm studies, stakeholder meetings, preliminary vision plans or draft reports.

Some fans of the Columbus Metro Parks are also taking a serious pause. All five of these waterways wind through Metro Parks, and in some cases multiple Metro Parks. Consider what happened to Quarry Trails, they claim, and what could happen to Battelle Darby. They say RAPID 5’s vision is far more about private (developer) interests than the public’s love of connecting to wooded trails, bubbling creeks, and wildlife, and doing so just a short ride away.

Don Kloss is a retiree, and now an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist and the founder and president of Central Ohio Nature. Kloss recently held a Zoom presentation on RAPID 5 and how concerned he is about RAPID 5’s so-called “vision” for the Metro Parks.

“This really has me charged up,” said Kloss. “When I first found out about RAPID 5 [in 2019], I wrote to the Metro Parks because I’m a volunteer. And I told them, ‘the mission statement for the parks is conservation and making things so that people can enjoy nature better, and I did not think this fits with that plan. And that RAPID 5 was making me re-think being a volunteer.’”

A couple days after Kloss sent the email he received a call from Metro Parks director Tim Moloney and they had a face-to-face meeting.

“He told me, ‘Nothing will happen with RAPID 5 that affects the parks without his say so. And he promised me, as long as he was sitting behind that desk there was not going to be development done at the parks.’”

Before Quarry Trails opened in November of 2021, Kloss was invited to a preview hike led by Tim Moloney.

“Numerous times Moloney mentioned that in exchange for allowing that developer (Thrive Companies) to build right on top of the park, the developer paid for a lot of the infrastructure at the park. They paid for the bridges, the paved walkways, the docks, the lighting, the utilities. Moloney was really pleased with himself,” said Kloss.

He added, “I felt like I had been lied to just to placate me, and I was really pissed off.”

Kloss says he’s taking it upon himself to raise some red flags on RAPID 5 because “the community is basically not aware of it.”