Celebrating the South Side's renaissance with a new gateway monument

Updated: Feb 14

by Carlos Iñiguez


The PAMA Gateway as of late January 2022. Source: NDC, Oscar Camacho-Cabrera


The Parsons Area Merchants Association (PAMA) will soon unveil the newest piece of the Columbus South Side’s urban landscape. A community gateway monument is being installed at the northwest corner of Parsons Avenue and South Lane. The monument replaces an earlier iteration comprised of brick, steel, and granite, with a visually striking steel sculpture emblematic of the historic steel industry of the South Side. Parsons Avenue will have a front-door urban display that welcomes everyone to the community.


Gateway monuments are structures, signs, or displays that welcome visitors and residents into a town or neighborhood. You might be familiar with this world-famous example: the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign. With its neon lights and flashy display, the landmark is symbolic of the exciting and extravagant experiences awaiting you on the Las Vegas Strip. If you’ve been on a long road trip, you’ve probably seen gateway monuments as you stop to rest in a small town. These structures, landscapes, and signs are often characteristic of the town’s most important or recognizable trait, such as Roswell, NM’s UFO-themed gateway sign. Here in Columbus, many are familiar with the arches of the Short North Arts District. The Short North’s arches are not arches by accident—they pay tribute to the wooden arches that once lined High Street over a century ago.


Gateway monuments in Las Vegas NV, Roswell NM, and Columbus OH. Sources: Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, EG Structural, Columbus Makes Art


These monuments add to the urban landscape of a given town or district. When thinking of individual neighborhoods, one often imagines the streets, businesses, and people that define that place. Some have distinct architecture, thematic banners and displays, or a collection of similar trades and industries. Public art projects like gateways help to further define and display the unique identity of a given place.


Rendering of the South Side Gateway Structure. Source: NDC


NDC was involved in the South Side's original design of the 2010 monument wall. The demolition of this wall due to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital expansion created an opportunity to devise a new and more visible entry marker into the neighborhood. When PAMA tapped NDC to design the “Welcome to the South Side” gateway in 2014, it set off a process of engaging with the broader community and its stakeholders for an emblematic piece of public art. NDC explored several ideas alongside various student interns who developed concepts leading to a sculpture as the main feature. RT Design Studio and BA Workshop collaborated with NDC towards the final concept.


Three concept study models produced during the design process to inform final design concept. Source: NDC


The final concept blends one-part pocket park with one-part sculptural art with a topiary structure and sign-piece that harkens back to the historical steel industry of the area. The gateway enhances one of the few green spaces along the Parsons Avenue corridor. Through its bright color and rising form, the structure and its green features reflect the revival of the neighborhood. Once impacted by the downturn of industry’s exit, the vibrancy of the South Side’s residents has brought the neighborhood back. As the seasons change, flowers and plants will bloom along the metal frame just as the neighborhood is blooming over the historical pillars of its beginnings. The gateway calls for all to join the spirited celebration of the South Side’s renaissance.


Construction of the monument and its installation. Source: NDC


The PAMA South Side Gateway Monument is located at 649 Parsons Ave. on the west side of Parsons Avenue between Jackson Street and South Lane. It was designed by Raffi Tomassian of RT Design Studio and fabricated by Stewart Iron Works. Additional project support came from Osborn Engineering, Augur Metal Works, and Jeff May. The project was funded by Nationwide Children’s Hospital, The Columbus Foundation, The Tom E. Daley Foundation, and the City of Columbus.