Restoration is key as construction companies unlock High Street potential.

Restoration is key as construction companies unlock High Street potential.

Like a missing and long-sought puzzle piece, development of an expanse of High Street from Broad Street north to Spring Street is falling into place with great anticipation.

Several developers' plans to add hundreds more apartments to three neglected but strategically positioned blocks will fill a gap between previous projects that stretch from German Village on the south to the Ohio State University campus on the north.

In the emerging picture, environmental elements color the projects with excitement: A growing vibe of urban cool spills over from E. Gay Street. Welcoming walkability extends west from the newly opened Scioto Greenways. Classic character not available with new builds comes with renovation of historic structures.

The vision shared by developers and observers alike is that the mixed-use development along this part of High Street and vicinity-combining residential with retail, restaurants and office space-will infuse new energy into Downtown and make it even more attractive for continued improvements. Projects in the works include a possible hotel and five garages-four new and one renovated.

"What's happening-the transformation in Columbus, Ohio-is amazing," says Michael Schiff of Schiff Capital Group, which received the 2015 Outstanding Achievement award from the CapitalCrossroadsSID for renovation of the Atlas Building at the corner of N. High and E. Long streets.

"With Edwards (Companies), what we're doing, with Mike Schiff's project and even Brad DeHays', it could be 700 to 800 residents on this block in two years," says developer Ricky Day, principal of Day Companies.

Schiff created 98 one-, two-bedroom and studio units in the Atlas, formerly the Columbus Savings and Trust Building built in 1905 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. The New York-style building is 100-percent occupied, Schiff notes proudly.

"A lot of people thought I was crazy on the Atlas. You're a block from the YMCA, but that's urban living. When you put these nice, newer living alternatives for people in these areas, people like being there," Schiff adds.

That's exactly what Edwards Companies anticipates with its plans to redevelop another former bank building down the street and construct new apartments on surface parking lots it acquired along the west side of N. High Street between Gay and Long streets.

And directly across the street, Day is redeveloping four buildings including the long-vacant former Madison's store.

Kim Ulle, president of Eclipse Real Estate Group, a division of Edwards Companies, described plans for her firm's renovation and new construction.

"As we've gone through this, everyone in the city and everyone else continues to call this the most important site left, because it is a High Street site, obviously, and the fact that it is the corner of Gay and High. It is a continuation of what's been done so well on Gay Street, making it a livable street," Ulle says.

From the Ground Up

Edwards' construction in recent years of 200 condominiums and over 375 new apartments in a nine-block area dubbed Neighborhood Launch is a big part of turning Gay Street into a trendy Downtown destination. The area includes Bishop's Walk and the Normandy apartments as well as restoration of the Welsh Presbyterian Church, former home to Faith Mission at 315 E. Long St., as a community center serving the apartments.

At 51 N. High St., Edwards is renovating the former Citizens Building, putting 63 apartments in the historic structure at the southwest corner of High and Gay. With mostly one- and two-bedroom units, the offerings will also include a couple of three-bedroom penthouse apartments at the top of the nine-story building, Ulle says.

The former bank hall on the ground floor will include a common area for the apartments as well as "some component that could be open to the public," Ulle says, along with some retail facing High Street and a little along Gay. Completion is targeted for the third quarter of 2016, but work could stretch into the fourth quarter.

Just north of the old bank, Edwards expects to erect fencing in January to turn a block-long collection of surface parking lots on High Street from Gay to Long into another 230 apartments, with ground-level retail along High Street and a parking garage behind. The new construction will show six stories, with one level of parking below ground and two parking levels above, topped by four stories of apartments.

Tying the renovation and new buildings together-literally-will be a tunnel under Gay Street to allow access to the garage.

Edwards expects a mix of retail and restaurants to fill the High Street side of the new building. Office frontage on Gay Street will include Edwards' leasing office, Ulle says.

The entire $61 million project will provide 300,000 square feet of retail and residential space when complete by the end of 2017. Construction will be done in phases, with the garage finished earlier to allow the first tenants to move in before the last unit is done.

"We're very excited to be able to take those parking lots and improve them. It's going to make such a difference on High St. to have that section improved and alive again," Ulle says.

"There's going to be so many residential units by the time we finish our project and Ricky (Day) does his project, and the Atlas Building sits right there. There's going to be a lot of people living in the area now, which is an exciting thing, plus what is going on with LeVeque," Ulle says, noting the addition of apartments, condos and a Marriott hotel in the historic skyscraper nearby at Broad and Front streets.

"Then you continue down Gay with what the city's doing there with putting in a park (Scioto Greenways) and just making it all very walkable. That's why we feel we'll be able to attract some restaurants and/or retail that will want to be there because of all the people that are around," Ulle adds.

Residences in the Citizens Building will begin as rental units but could be converted to condominiums, Ulle says. "The building lends itself, because of its historic nature, to people wanting to own them," she explains.

Ulle says Edwards' target residents are "a real mix of people. We get a lot of people that may actually not even work Downtown but want to live Downtown in some of our other urban product."

New Day on High Street

Day is equally upbeat about prospects for his next project involving most of the block between N. High and N. Pearl streets north of E. Gay Street.

The Day Companies site includes:

• an eight-story building housing his office at 22 E. Gay St. with Café Brioso on the ground floor at High Street,

• two buildings that housed the former Madison's Women's Store; six stories at 72-74 N. High St. and four stories at 78 N. High St.,

• the six-story former White-Haines Optical Company building at 80-84 N. High St.,

• the two-story former site of Experience Columbus at 90 N. High St., and

• a parking lot that runs north to 106 N. High St.

"We want to create cool spaces that are interesting, functional and sustainable long term," Day says. "We want to create good assets, and then we want to find businesses that have vision for what they want to do and what they're looking for is a space to move their culture into. So we want to marry the assets we're creating with entrepreneurials and people who are more grassroots to come in and make it happen. Because without the tenants, you have nothing."

Prospective business tenants increasingly seek space that fits a culture that appeals to millennials, Day finds. Their thinking seems to be "If I want these young people to work for me, it's got to be cool; it's got to be interesting for them," Day says, adding, "It's almost like a personnel expense as opposed to a cost of occupancy."

Work is just underway on internal demolition, which must save original features under the project's Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit requirements. Plans for rehabbing the Madison's and White-Haines buildings are not finalized, but Day is eyeing retail and restaurant space at street level, office space on the second and sixth floors with apartments on the third through fifth floors. His residential units typically have been lofts but "we're still sort of working through the mix," he says.

Just north of those renovations, Day plans to demolish the former Experience Columbus HQ and build a garage to park about 325 vehicles with a storefront façade and possible hotel on top. A pedestrian green space would run between the two projects from High Street to Pearl Alley.

Work also continues on Day's property at the southeast corner of Gay and High streets, where he is rehabbing a four-story building damaged by fire in 2014. Three large apartments will be on the top floor, with offices and general business below, Day says.

Affordable Options

Around the northern corner of the Edwards projects and to the west, Brad DeHays is redeveloping four buildings at West Long and North Front streets. DeHays, founder of Connect Realty and Mid-Ohio Contracting Services, is planning 41 upper-level apartments along with 6,000 square feet of ground floor retail space.

With grant help from the city through a workforce housing grant, DeHays is committed to offering his apartments at rates 10-15 percent less than other options in the area and holding his rates under market for 15 years. "So our lease rates are going to be anywhere from $695 to $1,050 a month" for apartments ranging from 350 to 700 square feet, he says.

The intent is to increase housing options for Downtown employees, such as those the city of Columbus will bring to new offices being built across Front Street from his property, DeHays says.

So far, roofs have been replaced and 12 months of interior construction is expected to begin in February or March, DeHays says. Outside plans will go to the Downtown Commission in January or February but "we're not proposing any drastic changes to the exterior. They'll have to approve our storefronts," he says.

Among new commercial tenants will be Cravings Café, moving from its popular former Italian Village location to the former Saigon Palace site. A pet food shop and a furniture store are also in the lineup, DeHays says.

"I'm known for being a historic renovation expert. I'm known for restoring historic buildings, and that's what I love to do. I try to find a need for the community around there that fits a public need and renovate the building to fill that gap. That's where the City of Columbus helped out with their housing works initiative," DeHays says.

To help with parking in the area, DeHays recently acquired a five-level garage at 56-62 E. Long St. that has been closed just over two years.

"The columns are in great shape and the decks have been severely weathered. We actually have to resurface all of the decks, and when we do that, we don't want to be in the same position 15 years from now that they're in today," DeHays says.

To keep the building in good repair, he plans to glass in the north and south sides and add heating, sprinklers and a ventilation system. With 547 spaces, the rehabbed garage will provide all the parking he needs for his apartments plus serve Downtown workers and visitors.

The two projects are not DeHays' only property in this area. He also owns the Elevator Brewing Company building at 161 N. High St. and an adjacent surface lot. That building is fully occupied-home to the Larrimer & Larrimer law offices plus a Subway and a smaller law firm.

"We're long-term investors. We're buying historic buildings we have no desire to sell, no desire to create a product that's going to be short-lived," DeHays says. "We're very happy that Downtown in our core market has grown so fast we're actually able to capitalize some of the assets that we have, and it makes sense to buy more. We have buildings with integrity and character, and we can hold them as everything else builds up around them."

He adds, "Now it's not a demand issue, there's a supply issue. That's the amazing thing about it. It's been so long since we've talked about not having enough supply, but now with Downtown Columbus being underserved for so long, it's just exploding."

The combination of people moving Downtown and construction to bring in even more creates excitement, DeHays suggests.

"It's going to feel really busy. I think that feeling is what attracts millennials. It attracts baby boomers that are downsizing. And what we consider downsizing, that's from a larger residential establishment to a smaller one. It doesn't mean they're downsizing price point," he says.

"Our construction is lagging Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Cleveland. However we're a very robust economy. There are a lot of projects in planning right now," DeHays says.

Atlas Building Part Deux

As excitement about Downtown living escalates, the energy has Schiff thinking about a second phase to his Atlas Building within the next 24 to 48 months. His vision for a High Street surface lot just north of his building is to construct another 80 to 100 apartments with street-level retail and a parking deck behind it.

"Urban living in Columbus in five years is all going to be 10 times better than it is today," Schiff predicts.

"We were very under-apartmented in Columbus as a whole, and we still are," Schiff says. He shares observations of fellow developers that those in their early 20s to mid-30s expect to change jobs several times and don't want to be burdened with owning a home if they choose to move.

"You do have to give Mayor (Michael) Coleman some credit for his vision," Schiff says, noting the four-term mayor's goal of boosting the Downtown population to 10,000, which is nearly in sight as Coleman's term ends Dec. 31.

With the appetite for more apartments in the area expected to remain strong, investors "are willing to pay much more for apartments right now than they ever were in Columbus," Schiff says, adding, "There's a lot of investment dollars on the sidelines."

Rob Vogt, principal with Vogt Strategic Insights, a real estate market research firm that did a study for the Edwards project, says, "We continue to see strong support for Downtown housing, and the surveys that we do, we're showing a 95 to 96 percent-plus occupancy for Downtown apartments in spite of the fact we've got apartments continuing to enter the market."

Vogt adds, "We're optimistic that that market is going to continue for some time, not only from the single millennials who want to be in the center of it all but also now from the baby boomers who like the idea in retirement of living where there is a lot of activity and a lot of things to walk to and entertainment options, sports options. This site is well-positioned to respond to both groups."

Priority Preservation

Of special interest to Vogt is that many of the current projects are renovations.

"We're not losing historical buildings again to the demolition ball. One of the things we have not done a great job on (previously) is the preservation side of it," Vogt says.

He adds, "To have the Edwards Companies preserve a landmark bank building and Ricky Day preserving that strip of historic buildings on the east side of High Street-we have to be commended for that. I think that creates the architectural interest of a downtown area. When you're able to preserve and reuse buildings to that fashion; that's another important part of this development and how important it is to Downtown."

Reagan Purcell Architects is finishing a renovation project of its own while eyeing the activity up the street from its three-story building at 34-36 W. Gay St., the former Kaiserhof Hotel and Garden. The B. Loved Bridal Boutique operates by appointment on the ground floor, with more retail space available. The upper floors are being turned into loft offices that the firm believes will appeal to creative types.

Firm founder John Reagan is an advocate for less emphasis on parking as redevelopment occurs, and he notes the city does not require parking to be included in this area of Downtown. "If we design around parking, we won't have the Downtown we want. The cities you most want to go to have the hardest parking," he says.

Sara Purcell, his partner, agrees, saying both empty nesters and young professionals are finding they can enjoy city living without doing a lot of driving. "They will go without a second car to live Downtown," Purcell says.

Across High Street from the Edwards' bank renovation, Lauren Tonti of the Tonti Organization is seeking tenants in two properties-at 34 and 44 N. High St. The former has 30,000 square feet of office space with exposed brick walls and ceilings plus 5,000 square feet of street-level retail space. The latter has a first-floor carryout that has closed, with one- and two-bedroom apartments planned for the second and third floors.

Tonti believes the yet-to-be designed walkup apartments with possible rear decks overlooking Pearl Alley would appeal to millennials. "I have lived in a third-floor walkup and haven't minded it at all," she says.

Cleve Ricksecker, executive director of the SID Public Services Association which includes Downtown's Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District, is pleased. "The good news here is we have a number of developers whose expertise is urban mixed-use development, including retail," he says.

"You have a large number of active players; that's always a positive," Ricksecker adds. "We will see a double-loaded retail street, which will be a first in Downtown. Gay Street is not quite there, but here we'll have several blocks of double-loaded retail" with shops on both sides of the street.

Contributing to area development are tens of thousands of Downtown workers as walk-in customers, along with on-street parking along N. High Street to lure in drive-by impulse shoppers, Ricksecker says. The popularity of Pearl Market shopping twice a week from May through October plus eight Moonlight Markets throughout the season has helped create a retail node developers can build on, he adds.

Ricksecker applauds new development for the "Death Valley" of surface lots on High from Gay to Long streets, but elsewhere "the kind of character that Day Companies will reveal when they renovate those buildings, you couldn't find in new construction…So many people want to find unusual urban space when looking for an office or an apartment. Offices that have things like brick walls and exposed ducts and feel kind of industrial are in great demand but in small supply."

Not yet reality but on the horizon, Ricksecker believes, is a lifestyle transition with enough retail, residential and other uses nearby that "allows people to live without a car."

"Urban mixed-use neighborhoods work only when you develop a significant carless population that does its daily routine on foot, that won't get into a car and drive out to the closest Target, but instead will walk a block or two to a small-scale store, and that's what we're missing right now," Ricksecker says.

"We can't continue to build apartment buildings with a parking space for every apartment…It's such a waste of resources to try to accommodate cars in an area that wasn't built for cars," he adds.

Columbus Development Director Steve Schoeny echoes others' enthusiasm for the development projects and their leaders. Those improving this area of Downtown "really work together as neighbors in the old-school sense of the word," he says appreciatively.

The city is joining the boom with construction of its own-an eight-story government center at 111 N. Front St. and a 700-space garage at 141 N. Front St. to serve city employees and those doing business with the city.

Schoeny credits renovation of the 46-story LeVeque Tower at West Broad and North Front streets with spurring development along N. High Street. "I don't think those other projects come along as quickly without what was happening with the LeVeque. It was part of the puzzle that makes people more comfortable with investing in this part of Downtown."

Mary Yost is the editor.