March 5, 2019

Alumna Betsy Pandora: A Leader in City Planning

Betsy Pandora (MCRP ’10) is the Executive Director at Short North Alliance, an advocacy organization for the culturally rich Short North Arts District. She sat down with us to talk about her work and how Knowlton gave her the skills to do it.

Alumna Betsy Pandora: A Leader in City Planning

Betsy Pandora (MCRP ’10) is the Executive Director at Short North Alliance (SNA), an advocacy organization for Columbus' culturally rich Short North Arts District. She has served as the Education Outreach and Development Coordinator at the Wexner Center for the Arts and as strategic planning assistant in the director’s office. More recently, Pandora was the Healthy Places Coordinator for Columbus Public Health Department and was the leading force behind Columbus Art Walks.

The Short North Arts District is recognized as a pioneer in urban revitalization and features one of the most dynamic concentrations of creative art, dining, nightlife, fashion, home décor and unique gift establishments in all of Ohio. The mission of the Short North Alliance is to nurture the Short North Arts District as a vibrant, creative and inclusive community and leading arts destination.

In our alumni profile, we asked Betsy Pandora to reflect on her time at Ohio State, and offer insights into her work in the Short North.

Visitors to the Short North view a mural that remixes American Gothic.

How has the environment of the Short North changed in the nine years since you graduated from the Knowlton School?

The environment of the Short North Arts District and surrounding neighborhoods has certainly changed since my graduation from the Knowlton School. The area that I help to serve through the work of the Short North Alliance is defined by the boundaries of the Short North Special Improvement District (mostly High Street from King Avenue to Convention Center Way). The built environment changes are the most substantial. Nearly $1.5 billion in private development projects have added over 1.5 million square feet of predominantly commercial office, retail and rental residential space to the District since 2010. With Columbus projected to grow by as many as 1 million additional residents by 2050, the changes experienced in the Short North Arts District over the better part of the last decade are born out of a substantial need to accommodate the space for new jobs and housing required in an environment that is ideal for the demographics where we will see population gains.

Can you update us on some of the recent revitalization projects—such as the comprehensive parking plan and streetscape project—in the Short North Arts District?

The City of Columbus in collaboration with our organization has helped to make some fairly substantial investments in infrastructure and parking – both of which are newly being experienced in 2019. A $30 million dollar streetscape improvements and beautification project adding nearly 200 new street trees, 56,000 square feet of sidewalk space, 180 new street lights, 9,000 square feet of new greenspace, and increased on street metered parking spaces across 1.6 miles will be completed at the end of 2019. Additionally, the Short North Arts District is the first area of Columbus to have a parking benefit district and parking demand management program – both of which are designed to stabilized parking utilization rates and ensure that all users of the District have easer, better and increased options for parking. These strategies, along with 2,000 new garage parking spaces, a parking app, and many other transit modes all bringing the Short North Arts District forward.

As the number of hotels increase both within and around the Short North, how will the SNA prepare for and respond to what could be a significant growth of tourism in the area?

Tourism is major business in Columbus. According to Experience Columbus, visitors to conventions, tradeshows, sporting events and leisure visits, make 39.9 million trips where they spend $6.4 billion, generate $9.7 billion in economic impact and support nearly 75,000 jobs each year. With over 1,000 new hotel beds under construction in and around the Short North Arts District, out-of-town visitors are projected to grow as a significant share of the District’s customer base. As an organization, we continue to focus on making sure that visitors have memorable, creative experiences when they encounter the Short North Arts District. Be that through events, public art and placemaking projects, or informational services – our organization places a large emphasis on serving the needs of all types of visitors. That said, what makes places great for visitors are authentic and connected experiences that ultimately serve everyone in our local community.

Recognized as the nation’s most elaborate costume party, HighBall Halloween features prominently on the Short North Arts District calendar. Can you tell us a little about this popular event?

In 2019, we are headed into the 12th year of HighBall Halloween. What started as a small street festival has grown into one of the most anticipated events in Columbus each year. The event annually attracts over 30,000 attendees and showcases many diverse aspects of the business community in the Short North Arts District. From fashion and beauty stylists to musicians and performance artists of all kinds, the best part of HighBall Halloween is that you are what you wear. In addition to serving as a celebrated festival in our community’s calendar, the event helps to generate resources to support the work of the Short North Alliance.

What aspects of the City and Regional Planning program at Ohio State have been valuable in your role as Executive Director at the Short North Alliance?

I use my planning degree on a daily basis in my job as Executive Director of the Short North Alliance. The Short North Arts District is a place that many hold special in Columbus. As the heart of our city, it is a place that people have many opinions about and care for its future. I constantly use skills that I gained from the Knowlton School in conflict resolution, stakeholder engagement and community planning in our organization’s work to listen to concerns, help facilitate dialogue and foster solutions for the District’s future. The Master of City and Regional Planning program was a great experience that really prepared me to work in the civic space. Planners are found working in diverse areas all over Columbus. Leveraging our planning network is often of great help to me in the work that I lead for the Short North Alliance.