It's not much to look at today, but the west end of Nationwide Boulevard in the Arena District could be quite the showpiece five years from now.

It's not much to look at today, but the west end of Nationwide Boulevard in the Arena District could be quite the showpiece five years from now.

By then, the century-old Municipal Light Plant complex is expected to have been restored as an office and specialty retail site through a partnership between Connect Realty and Schiff Capital Group.

The city of Columbus' Street Maintenance Central Outpost site will have been redeveloped as the corporate headquarters of Borror Properties and Ruscilli Construction Co. along with some additional offices and multifamily residential units. In addition the vacant area that once was the location of Jaeger Machine Co. and Union Fork & Hoe Co., and later the proposed site for Hollywood Casino Columbus, may be filled with apartments and condominiums developed by Nationwide Realty Investors Ltd.

And just up the street at 400 W. Nationwide Blvd., Nationwide Realty will have redeveloped the old industrial buildings in the Buggyworks complex into 133,000 square feet of Class A office space.

"You'll see a great mixed-use area of our city," predicts Nationwide Realty President Brian Ellis. "There will be all new infrastructure, a mix of offices and a neighborhood dominated by a lot of great residential choices. It will be a very exciting place to live with lots of amenities and access to green spaces and a trail along the (Olentangy River)."

The Municipal Light Plant and Central Outpost projects were announced toward the end of 2014, while NRI is getting closer to finalizing its plans for the Jaeger Machine/Union Fork & Hoe site. Demolition work on part of the Buggyworks site is underway, with the project expected to be completed by early 2016.

The redevelopment of West Nationwide Boulevard, plus Nationwide Realty's plan to build an upscale condominium complex at Neil Avenue and Spring Street just west of McFerson Commons, will push the Arena District closer to completion. Ellis also has high hopes for a site that NRI owns along Spring Street south of the office building anchored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. After that, only some smaller sites will remain.

"We can't sustain the level of (development) activity we've had the last few years or that we'll have in the next few years," Ellis says. "But like any area of the city, the Arena District will continue to evolve and there will be opportunities to improve it."

The recent activity that Ellis mentioned includes the completion last year of a six-story building at Neil Avenue and Nationwide Boulevard that is the new headquarters for Columbia Gas of Ohio. Columbia Gas was the latest in a long line of high-profile businesses that have moved their offices to the Arena District. They want to be part of an area that has undergone a remarkable transformation in the past 15 years during which the old Ohio Penitentiary site has been turned into a destination neighborhood of offices, restaurants, condos, apartments and entertainment venues led by Nationwide Arena and Huntington Park.

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams LLC, is one of the newcomers to the Arena District, having moved its corporate office last year to 401 N. Front St. by Nationwide Arena. It's just a short walk from the North Market where company founder Jeni Britton Bauer founder got her start in the ice cream business in 1996. That played into the company's decision to move to the Arena District, as did the building's proximity to creative services firms such as Resource Interactive, Moxie and treetree, says Jeni's CEO John Lowe.

"We want our creatives to be around other creatives," he says. "Good things happen when great talent bounces ideas off each other. That made the Arena District and Downtown very appealing to us."

The district's proximity to the Short North also helped drive the move, with Lowe saying those in the Millennial and Generation Y demographic groups want to live in cool neighborhoods and be able to walk to work.

"It's a great recruiting tool for us," he says. "We want to be in a place where we can compete with the best companies in the world to attract talent."

The Arena's District urban vibe was also one of the reasons that Schiff Capital Group decided to partner with Connect Realty on the Municipal Light Plant project, says Michael Schiff, principal of the Columbus-based real estate and investment firm. He sees the project as a natural extension of his company's involvement in a number of other projects in the downtown and Short North.

"The whole urban thing has gotten hot in Columbus and nationally," Schiff says. "People like the activity and pulse, and there is a lot of that in the Arena District."

That didn't happen by accident. The success of the Arena District is the result of "very careful and thoughtful planning" by Nationwide Realty and its parent company, Nationwide Insurance, says Steve Schoeny, development director for the city of Columbus.

"They've always taken the long view and focused on maintaining quality and their vision for that area," he says. "They understood probably better than anybody (about) the return of the urban environment and that we're seeing a generational shift to a mixed-use residential and office projects. They believed they could be successful if they built a quality product in that environment."

Ellis agrees that a long-term perspective has shaped development in the Arena District, saying an emphasis has been placed on doing top-quality projects that are sustainable in the long term.

"The decisions we've made about individual projects and phases were designed to add value to the whole," he says. "Each phase has made the Arena District better."

Ellis also remembers what he told people when they praised Nationwide Arena when it opened in 2000 and other early improvements around it at that time.

"I told people, 'I'm glad you like it now, but we plan to make it better and better.' We've kept that promise. We've improved the level of excellence and momentum for Downtown Columbus. It's really on an upswing."

Jeff Bell is a freelance writer.