Landlocked Worthington seeks to make the most of its opportunities by redeveloping key parcels.

When Ohm Patel's Alliance Hospitality bought the Clarion hotel in Worthington 16 years ago, he knew the 233-room property on 7.1 acres had potential beyond upgrading it to a more upscale flag.

“It hadn't seen a lot of love,” Patel said of the lack of proper maintenance and reinvestment in the rooms. “We discovered quickly that the location could be lucrative, long-term,” he says. “But we were more of a hotel operator at the time and didn't really have a development mindset.”

Even making upgrades to qualify for a Radisson flag proved enough a challenge for the property that had debuted in 1979 as a full-service Hilton Hotel. Further investment allowed the property to become a Holiday Inn in 2007, but the Lewis Center-based hotel developer/operator—now known as the Witness Group—believes the entire property should just get redeveloped. “We can't afford to put any more money into it,” the Witness Group CEO says. “The market dynamics have changed.”

For the city of Worthington, redevelopment of the site for a higher grade brand with no more than 130 rooms could allow the opportunity to create another 36,000 square feet of hotel-oriented retail across West Wilson Bridge Road from where developers just a few years ago reconfigured and upgraded the long-neglected Worthington Mall into a mixed-use project with apartments and commercial office space.

That redevelopment, a joint venture between Columbus developer Tom Carter and investors from Texas, started with opening up portions of the then-40-year-old mall and refreshing the mix of tenants with new restaurants and retailers.

“It was really at death's door,” recalls Carter, an 18-year Worthington resident. “I watched the degradation under an absentee landlord. When we bought it in late 2010, it had 40-percent vacancy.” Carter says his knowledge of the Columbus commercial real estate marketplace made redeveloping the property that had fallen into foreclosure an easy decision. “It's one of the best interchanges in northern Columbus and it's very accessible, especially with the (Interstate 270 and North High Street) roadwork underway.”

The project quickly caught the attention of prospective tenants. Insight Bank, in early 2011 committed to building its headquarters and branch on the former Dalt's restaurant site as numerous retailers and restaurants filled up the revamped retail space. By late 2012, Dublin-based Crawford Hoying Development Partners decided to build the 193-unit Heights at Worthington Place apartment building on a nearby site; a few months later, the developer added 23,000 square feet of commercial office on the bottom two floors.

That residential component, Carter says, “made it an even more active environment.” The developers may consider a multi-story office component. “We think there's still some more to do,” he says.

Witness' Patel says the hotel is no longer the primary factor in the planning. “Ultimately it will be the market demand for the retail that drives the mix of products on the site.”

Worthington Economic Development Director David McCorkle says the city, like many landlocked communities inside I-270, has had to focus on redeveloping existing properties such as the Worthington Mall and the Holiday Inn site to maintain the quality of life its residents have come to expect. Much of the effort has focused on reinvigorating office properties on Wilson Bridge Road east and west of North High Street that offered some of the first Class A office space outside of Downtown Columbus 30 to 40 years ago.

“It's taking the existing inventory of properties and the opportunities to upgrade that product,” McCorkle says, noting Columbus-based Trivium Development LLC earlier renovated former Mettler Toledo International headquarters at 350 W. Wilson Bridge Road for Central Ohio Urology Group and other tenants.

To that end, the city in 2015 attracted organic grocer Fresh Thyme to 933 High St., site of an old office property. That followed by a decade or so the CVS pharmacy chain's opening of a store on a portion of a site previously occupied by grocer Jubilee Foods.

MK&K Realty Inc., owner of the former Jubilee property, has revised a decade-old plan for development with a small retail project under construction at 910 and 890 High St. without the second-floor apartments the city had sought earlier. MK&K Vice President Chris Kessler says the speculative 890 building will offer 12,656 square feet of second-floor office space above retail while retailer Pet People has signed a lease for the one-story section at 910 High St. “We went back to the drawing board to see what we could work out economically” for a second-floor use, says Kessler.

Other redevelopment activity also has taken place closer to the city's historic Village Green. Showe Development has put a yoga studio in the 1820 renovated Masonic Lodge and museum as well as offices at 634 High St. a block south of the square. The city also has marketed the former Worthington schools offices at 752 High St. it owns for retail or other active use for several years. The 1927 Kilbourne Memorial Building that had served as the community's first library had attracted operators of the Sweet Carrot food truck and Grandview-area restaurant under a September 2015 lease.

But renovations and other costs skyrocketed above an agreed $550,000 maximum capital investment, so the city let the restaurateur out of its lease by mid-2016.

By that time it had attracted Sew to Speak, a boutique fabric and sewing supplies retailer that also hosts classes, relocating from Clintonville. More recently, the membership-based CoHatch Worthington co-working office and art and crafts studio location nearby at 659 High St. has committed to expanding into the Kilbourne property this fall.

CoHatch founder Matt Davis says the facility also offers conference space to its members. “We take old buildings and repurpose them for new concepts,” he says, noting the existing Worthington space that opened a year ago is the upper level of the former Zettler Hardware. “The city has bought our concept and has entrusted us to help activate (the Village Green) into a vibrant town center.”

The city's McCorkle says Pet People's interest in the retail space came as it sought an alternative to Dublin as a place to relocate its headquarters. Pet People in February moved its 30 office workers from Hilliard into about half of the long-vacant Liqui-Box at 6950 Worthington-Galena Road. Filling up existing properties, McCorkle says again, “is exactly what we look to do.”

The city still has a lot to do as many longtime residents seek to vacate the homes in which they raised their children and look for alternative housing for their retirement years. One site that could accommodate such housing is the 42-acre United Methodist Children's Home campus at the intersection of High and Worthington-Galena Road. The site—which Continental Real Estate Cos. had proposed several years ago for a Giant Eagle-anchored shopping center—attracted the interest of Columbus-based multifamily developer Lifestyle Communities for 571 residences and some commercial development.

While the developer had a few estate homes proposed along the campus' west border to serve as a buffer with the Worthington Estates neighborhood, the density nevertheless brought out vocal opposition among residents under the Worthington Alliance for Responsible Development banner. Plans have not advanced much since a June 2015 public meeting between residents and the developer despite some interest for a medical facility north of a United Methodist conference center on the site.

“It's a prime parcel in the heart of Worthington,” McCorkle says of the property. “The city would like to see some Class A offices; some people want it to become a park; Lifestyle Communities came in and wanted to put in just high density residential.”

Worthington Place's Carter says, as a resident, he hopes the residents, developer, city and landowner can come to terms on an acceptable plan. “It's really a hot market in Worthington right now,” he says, “and they haven't been able to capture any of that excitement.”

Brian Ball is a freelance writer.