Should the Ralston Hotel be razed or saved?
Or, could the third tallest building in Columbus be a full-service hotel again?
Right now, the Ralston sits on 12th Street remembering better days. In all its glory, it was the place where governors and 4-star generals spent the night when they were in town. It was the place where after their wedding reception brides threw their bouquet to a spinster aunt.
It was the place where old football coaches named Shug and Wally came to the Quarterback Club and whispered secrets about third team offensive tackles who would never play a down. It was the place where every morning the same old men had breakfast around the same old round table and solved the same old problems.
Better days are gone now. Instead of well-dressed patrons on their way to a party, it is home to people who are one step away from the streets. Instead of rooms with clean sheets and a bucket of ice, there are bed bugs and rodents who never check out. Instead of a bellman in a dry cleaned uniform there is an EMT waiting for an elevator that doesn’t work so he can haul another guest to the emergency room.
Some would say the 103-year-old building ought to be razed. The more difficult response is that the Ralston ought to be saved. For if it’s saved, what can be done with it?
Assume that the guts of the building are beyond repair. Age and neglect will do that to the best of buildings. So as you think about what the Ralston could be know that only the facade will survive. Here are some random thoughts:
• Would Columbus State University or the CSU Foundation be interested in the property? The university owns a lot of real estate in Uptown but most of it is clustered along Broadway. The former hotel is located at 211 12th Street and being out of the CSU neighborhood might dampen CSU’s interest.
• Could it be converted into office space? The demand for offices isn’t big right now since higher education is downtown’s major industry and it brings along its own buildings. Besides, after the sale of Carmike Theaters, it headquarters might end up on the market.
• So could it be a hotel again?
“That’s an intriguing idea,” said Peter Bowdwn of the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It is a proposal that might be worth exploring.”
But two new properties are planned around 12th and Broadway. Would the area need another hotel?
“You can’t stop,” Bowden said. “You always have to keep adding new destinations. We can never stop looking at what is next.”
Ten years ago, Columbus was the leader among comparable Georgia cities when you counted convention rooms. Now others have jumped ahead. And the new hotels on the horizon won’t help the city’s rankings.
Researchers have always told the city that it needed more hotel rooms adjacent to the Columbus Convention and Trade Center in order to take our convention business to the next level. The Ralston might not be adjacent but that issue could be solved by adding trolley service.
As he brainstormed the idea, Bowden suggested that the Ralston might have its own clientele since it is close to the Corporate Center, the Federal Courthouse, four historic churches and even TSYS.
Developers’ interest in the upcoming properties indicates people are thinking about the need for more hotels. Talk of an Armor Museum being added to the mix around the Infantry Museum will increase that potential interest.
For the Ralston site to be seriously considered. structural questions need to be explored. Experts must determine whether the exterior has been compromised and whether gutting the interior is practical. Then there is the matter of cost.
Whatever the future is, something must be done about that rundown building. Residents deserve more. Whatever their rent, they deserve an environment that is safe, clean and sanitary. They don’t deserve bedbugs next door.
The idea of taking the Ralston Hotel back to its roots is interesting. The concept is working in other cities. Just ask them. For as legendary John, Paul, George and Ringo once said: “Everything old is new again.”