Firm’s charitable gift kickstarts new parks vision
[Columbus, Ohio] August 02, 2022
Mark and Eric Wagenbrenner’s best childhood memories are from time spent outdoors. Now their development company’s $1 million gift to RAPID 5 will ensure many more children can create their own outdoor remembrances growing up in central Ohio.
Thrive Companies’ early gift underscores the “rapid” in the acronym standing for Rivers and Parks Imagination Design. It provided quick means for the visioning project to develop into a new nonprofit and begin sharing a vision of bringing people closer to nature and one another by expanding access to the Columbus region’s bounty of five major waterways.
“This incredibly generous donation underscores our community’s commitment to grow in an ecologically sustainable manner and catalyzes a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put nature at the heart of our lives,” said Dr. Amy Acton, president and CEO of RAPID 5. “Bringing people closer to nature will lift up neighborhoods and improve everyone’s quality of life.”
“This gift catapults RAPID 5 from a vision to a movement. It enables us to engage additional founding partners to create a nonprofit social enterprise capable of supporting our neighbors and communities in achieving their goals,” Acton said. “RAPID 5’s vision is to connect us to nature and one another like never before.”
Beyond the financial contribution, Thrive also provided office space and staff support for early meetings and donated use of a billboard across the street from its 842 N. 4th St. headquarters to help launch RAPID 5.
The stated philosophy of the development firm – to revive neglected land and build imaginative and collaborative communities – is consistent with the RAPID 5 mission and is most visible in the company’s partnership with the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks at Quarry Trails. In fact, Thrive came into being around the same time the RAPID 5 vision was forming. Mark Wagenbrenner is a founder and secretary of the board of RAPID 5.
The Wagenbrenners have a family history of reclaiming and repurposing brownfields and other previously undeveloped lands. They had discussed their plan for The Quarry with Keith Myers, an acclaimed urban planner and landscape architect who is active with the Urban Land Institute Columbus. Then, as ULI Columbus honored the late John F. Wolfe with its Visionary Award in 2019, in part for his championing of the Scioto Mile development downtown, Myers talked with the Wagenbrenners, Metro Parks’ Tim Maloney, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission and others about how similar efforts could elevate recreation and public engagement along all five major north-south waterways evenly dispersed across Franklin County. Those early conversations sowed the seeds for RAPID 5’s focus on Big Darby Creek, Scioto River, Olentangy River, Alum Creek and Big Walnut Creek.
“It really opened our eyes, a lot of eyes, to the possibility of all five waterways,” said Mark Wagenbrenner. “If there’s any bonus to a flat city like this, the watersheds are perfectly spread out,” he added. “Few things are more appealing to young people than the outdoors.”
The Columbus region comprises 146 miles of rivers, creeks and tributaries with over 84 percent public access and ownership along at least one bank. That makes the waterways perfectly suited for development of linear parks that can greatly increase public recreation and access via narrow parcels, even as slight as 20 feet wide. “Traditional parks are great, but with linear parks you can give more access to more people,” said Eric Wagenbrenner.
Mark Wagenbrenner said a huge positive response when others were invited to support the RAPID 5 vision “was really magical. Once we started bringing people in, they all stuck,” he said.
The Wagenbrenners’ affinity for the outdoors dates to their childhood. The third-generation developers “built forts all summer long,” scrounging for scrap wood from construction sites near their Far East Side home, which was one of the first in a neighborhood off Noe-Bixby Rd., older brother Mark Wagenbrenner recalled. There were ravines, cliffs and tributaries to Big Walnut Creek. “It’s beautiful back in there, kind of a hidden gem,” said Eric Wagenbrenner, who is younger by 22 months.
Years later, the landscape of their youth was called to mind as the brothers traversed Northwest Side acreage around the former Marble Cliff Quarry. The new Quarry Trails park site now includes about 80 mixed-use acres Thrive is developing with freestanding condos, townhouses, apartments, retail and office space. Metro Parks has about 240 acres of park space. Another 250 acres continues to operate as a low-intensity quarry that will give Thrive additional development space when the operator eventually vacates the site.
“First thing we did at the quarry was to donate all the riverfront to the parks,” Mark Wagenbrenner said. “The outdoors and nature are an important part of our lives. In the past, people turned their backs on our waterways. Now, we want them to be a center point of our community.”
“This can really serve as an invitation to others,” said Acton. “Come join us. We have to put nature at the center of our growth and ensure these waterways in central Ohio are healthy and vibrant for generations to come.”
The donation was made through The RAPID 5 Fund at The Columbus Foundation. “The Columbus Foundation has been an invaluable partner to us and we appreciate their support in facilitating this gift,” said Mark Wagenbrenner. “It is our hope that others in the community will join us in the effort to ensure that central Ohio’s natural resources can be accessed and enjoyed by all community members.”
Receive our emails to stay involved with RAPID 5.