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New Albany, a Jeffersonian Marvel

Writer: Amelia Jeffers

Much has been said about the influence of Thomas Jefferson and his architectural sensibilities on the masterminds behind the development of New Albany nearly 30 years ago. Most reports have rightfully emphasized the aesthetic that recalls his near-obsession with classical forms and affection for a country lifestyle that appreciates fresh, clean air, beautiful meadows, and a bright blue sky. With miles of that ubiquitous white four-board horse fence and row upon row of majestic brick Georgian homes, it’s easy to mistake a drive through New Albany for the Virginia hills or a quaint old English village. Nearly overlooked has been the patient, methodical, and collaborative leadership that has exercised incredible restraint - demonstrating more than a few parallels to Jefferson’s approach at Monticello, a project to which he dedicated more than 40 years of his life.

While other central Ohio suburbs have undergone multiple life cycles of development, catering to the style of the moment or short-term concepts that provide a quick return on investment, New Albany seems to have been guided by the idea of slow and steady wins the race. “We talk a lot about the idea that we only have one chance to get it right,” Mayor Sloan Spalding shared with me in a recent interview. “Thankfully the New Albany community has been able to do just that, through decades of collaborative efforts between the City of New Albany, our residents who serve on city boards and commissions, the New Albany Company, and a multitude of other private and public partners that put the strength of our community first.”

Nearly 30 years ago, retail giant Les Wexner and Columbus real estate development legend Jack Kessler began assembling the land and a “dream team” of renown architects and planners that would result in one of the most desirable suburbs in the United States. In what can only be described as a rare, if not unique, public-private collaboration, their New Albany Company worked in concert with civic leaders, village planners and national thought-leaders in the areas of landscape design, architecture, and urban planning to design an aspirational blueprint that would centralize public resources at the confluence of major thoroughfares - in direct opposition to the widespread urban sprawl in most other suburbs where schools and other not-for-profit structures utilize cheap farmland at the periphery of town. While it was before he took the reins, New Albany Company’s Director of Planning, Tom Rubey talks about the initial planning process, “They really focused on key fundamentals and made sure to allocate enough land for those - setting a foundation around which commercial development and greenspace could go, and really resulting in some things that no one knew would be possible.”

Though his leadership and generosity has been unmatched, an overemphasis on Les Wexner’s influence would be to underestimate the tremendous talent, passion, cooperation, and effort of a lot of individuals and institutions. Rubey continues, “The collective community has to want to have these amenities, and if they do, you need the right kind of density, traffic patterns, and investments to sustain it.”

The last three decades have been a great American experiment in bucking the trends with a counter-cultural mindset that defines ROI in terms of quality of life versus financial gain. Proving that one does not have to be at the expense of the other, the economic impact of a vibrant and refreshing village center has helped to lure some of the most revered names from the Fortune 500 to the International Business Park including Facebook, Alphabet

(parent company of Google), Abercrombie & Fitch and most recently, Amgen. Attractive amenities include a school campus that looks more like a University setting than a K-12 system and a quaint retail district anchored by an impressive branch of the Columbus Library system and the Philip Heit Center for Healthy New Albany - a health and wellness center

partnership of the City of New Albany, Healthy New Albany, Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center and Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Throw in a cadre of annual events like a robust farmer’s market, the chef-driven food adventure that is the New Albany Chamber’s Taste of New Albany, and a number of walks and runs including the ever-popular Thanks For Giving 4-miler, and this relatively young community projects the character of an older town. Rubey describes living and working in the bustling area known as Market and Main: “On Thursday night, it is a sea of smiling strangers, but come Saturday and Sunday, familiar faces from the neighborhood are out and about.”

In 2021, against the backdrop of a global pandemic and economic uncertainty, New Albany has continued to roll out new projects. Building on a vibrant arts scene and under the leadership of Craig Mohre and the New Albany Community Foundation, the stunning Charleen & Charles Hinson Amphitheater sits adjacent to the Jeanne & John G. McCoy Community Center for the Arts and opened this fall with a rapid-fire series of events that offered sophisticated entertainment in an intimate atmosphere. Providing a “green necklace” to the village center, Rose Run Park is a charming wooded tract with a smart footprint that serves as a connector to schools, shopping, dining, the arts, and parking. “We saw Rose Run Park as our opportunity to literally bridge together all the things that make our Village Center

special – our school campus, restaurants and shops, playgrounds, and easy access to the Heit Center, McCoy Center, and the new Charleen & Charles Hinson Amphitheater, all in one of our most scenic areas in town near Rose Run Creek,” added Spalding. “Rose Run Park is our central park, with trails that connect to many nearby neighborhoods, making it a true centralized community gathering spot.”

As the newer developments expand toward more historical areas of town, aging buildings are seeing new uses like the conversion of the old mill to the latest BrewDog location just steps away from Eagles Pizza - a family-owned pizza joint with a loyal following for more than 50 years.

As a budding nation grew up around him, Thomas Jefferson charged his fellow leaders to be mindful of the opportunities before them, famously saying, “Architecture worth great attention. As we double our numbers every 20 years we must double our houses... it is then among the most important arts: and it is desirable to introduce taste into an art which shows so much.” In the Jeffersonian town of New Albany, surely great attention has afforded a most desirable result.


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