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The Short North: A complex history with art, development and crime

“There's a sweet spot in between where we started and where we are now and I think we drove past it,” Jack Decker, the Short North Civic Association President said.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Short North neighborhood is often billed as the bustling artistic hub of Columbus. But this vibrant community has a dark side: a complicated history with crime.

The neighborhood – filled with busy restaurants and bars – actually got its name from police.

“Certainly, the High Street corridor was very distressed and crime-ridden in 1980 when I moved here,” said Jack Decker, the Short North Civic Association President. 

He remembers 40 years ago when the Short North was the kind of place where drivers locked their doors and hit the gas pedal.

Police dispatchers began using the term the Short North because it was north of downtown and short of the University District, surrounding The Ohio State University. 

It was a squatter’s neighborhood plagued by street-level crime and gang violence. And the word ‘gang’ was synonymous with the Short North Posse. 

That group ran the street scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Its headquarters were North Fourth Street and East Eighth Avenue, which was once known as the most dangerous street corner in the city. Numerous murder cases and drug investigations were tied to this group.

But then came the crackdown, and the arrests. The feds pursued cases against at least 20 members of the group.

“I feel comfortable saying we have cut the head off,” Prosecutor David Devillers told 10TV back in 2016. Prosecutors wrapped up that work in 2017. 

As police worked to force the criminals out, new businesses worked to change the narrative. The Short North Tavern was the first to use the neighborhood name in 1981. Gallery hop began. And the opening of Rigsby’s Kitchen in 1986 is known as a pivotal point in the Short North’s renaissance.

A quick drive down High Street today shows the influence of immense creativity and commerce. But you’ll also notice Rigsby’s Kitchen has closed - replaced with a new business. And massive apartment complexes, bars and restaurants sit where artists used to make their living.

“There's a sweet spot in between where we started and where we are now and I think we drove past it,” Decker said.

And with gunfire interrupting the late-night party scene, old questions about safety are new again.

“Having a predominant nation of bars and restaurants as we have in last 15 years, I think it’s a negative development,” Decker said. “It correlates to the problems we saw Friday night into Saturday morning.”

Decker said the community should look at asking bars and restaurants to close early.

10TV reached out to the Short North Alliance about that idea. The group consists of business and property owners in the Short North.

"Gun violence like we’re seeing in neighborhoods across Columbus is a complex crisis, requiring multi-faceted solutions. While there are no quick fixes, we understand the need for urgency to protect what makes the Short North a vibrant, creative, and inclusive community. We’re partnering with Short North businesses and residents, as well as City, police and community leaders, to pursue a range of short- and long-term solutions to reduce the risk of late-night violence."

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