Franklinton redevelopment projects turn worn area into hip neighborhood.

Franklinton redevelopment projects turn worn area into hip neighborhood.

Nick Manus has served hot dogs from Phillip's Original Coney Island in the East Franklinton neighborhood for 20 years, knowing the day would come that the ground at 450 W. Broad St. would become too valuable not to redevelop.

In fact, Manus' father, James Manus, long-retired from the restaurant business, had thought as much since he decided in 1981 to relocate the popular family-owned diner to Broad Street from Mound Street and Harmon Avenue. The elder Manus even worked with the Franklinton Board of Trade business association in promoting construction of the Franklinton floodwall to guard against the Scioto River overrunning its banks and the successful relocation of the COSI science museum into the former Central High School.

"The talk has always been about Downtown moving west," the younger Manus said. "So I grew up ... knowing redevelopment would happen."

That moment of reckoning will come late this year, just shy of the hot dog and hamburger diner's 105th anniversary. Columbus developer Brett Kaufman plans to begin construction on a five-story, mixed-use project on the site of the eatery and the adjacent National Office Warehouse furniture store at 500 W. Broad St.

As approved by the East Franklinton Review Board, the project consists of 241 apartments, 50,000 square feet of office space and 30,000 square feet of retail and restaurants on the high-profile site just west of the new Franklin County Veterans' Memorial.

Kaufman Development co-developed the 250 High office and apartment project with Columbus-based Daimler Group near the Columbus Commons Downtown park. Kaufman also redeveloped part of the iconic LeVeque Tower into apartments and condos. "We've been trying to find opportunities in Franklinton for quite a while," Kaufman says. "We feel it's the kind of place for us to be."

Interest in redeveloping Franklinton lagged even after completion of the floodwall. Los Angeles-based Brick Investment Corp., which also operates as Urban Smart Growth LLC, has worked for more than a decade investing in various rundown industrial properties, including property at 400 W. Rich St. that houses various art studios and, at W. Town and Lucas streets, the developer's Strongwater Food and Spirits pub and event center.

Other bars/brew pubs, including Land-Grant Brew Co. and Rehab Tavern, have opened to wet the whistle of artists and workers at other creative-class tenants in the neighborhood like Glass Axis art studio and the carpenters, metalworkers and other craftsmen needing industrial space and access to tooling in the Columbus Idea Foundry at 421 W. State St.

"It has been speculative investment down here for some time," says Chris Sherman, a renovation contractor who came to East Franklinton in 2003 in search of cheap space but now serves as the Ohio director for Urban Smart Growth. He ties some of the lag in projects moving forward to reluctance among banks to lend for larger projects in a pioneer, urban market. "It's been a challenge for banks to understand and grasp what's going on," Sherman says. "Now the bankers are contacting us. So in that way, the neighborhood has turned the corner."

That better understanding of the redevelopment effort will allow Urban Smart Growth to get started on 69 live-work rental units in a four-story property set at Rich and Lucas streets next spring or summer. The developer also plans to renovate the former B&T Metal industrial property at 289 W. Walnut St. into 28 art studios on the ground floor with a 3,000-square-foot suite on the second floor for office tenants. "We have a huge demand for office space right now from startups like those in technology and video businesses taking the next leap as they hire more people."

Expansion mode also has taken hold at the Idea Foundry.

Office space on the building's second floor opened in August, thanks to investment exceeding $1.25 million a year ago by Columbus marketing guru Nancy Kramer and her husband, investor/entrepreneur Christopher Celeste.

"The economic heart of any city is space for your startups," says Idea Foundry Director Alex Bandar. The adaptive reuse of existing properties with historic and aesthetic character is a great selling point in the neighborhood. "Young people," he says, "don't like office parks and cubicles."

Creation and retention of a work environment and residential neighborhood attractive to the younger creative class and young professionals is a key component to East Franklinton redevelopment, says Skip Weiler, president of the Robert Weiler Co. real estate development and brokerage organization. "East Franklinton is the new hip area," says Weiler, whose company has joined the Casto development organization, the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority and Smoot Construction Co. in the commercial and residential project set on the site of the now demolished Riverside-Bradley public housing complex at W. Rich and McDowell streets.

"It's cool, funky, gritty, edgy," Weiler says of the neighborhood. "That's what people want."

Weiler says the 26,000 square feet of office space, public parking garage and combined 230 rental townhome and flats include many supported by a $1 million city grant as so-called workforce housing units for moderate-income workers. Set for delivery in 2018 with the rest of the mixed-use project, the housing "will help to keep the neighborhood cool," Weiler says. "You need a variety of housing units to keep it hip and edgy."

Other top developers also have shown an interest in East Franklinton, but with less definitive plans. Nationwide Realty Investors Ltd., the real estate arm of the Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. responsible for the Downtown's Arena District, paid $3.7 million for 8 acres stretching south from W. Broad to W. Chapel streets at 555 W. Broad St.

Earlier this year, it bought another 2.3 acres at 429 W. Broad St. from an affiliate of American Electric Power. That property sits across the street from Phillip's Original Coney Island. "We definitely think it's an emerging neighborhood," Nationwide Realty President Brian Ellis says. But he remains quiet about the development opportunity, saying only the W. Broad Street property will focus on commercial office and retail with perhaps residential further to the south. "We're patient," he says. "We're looking for just the right user and the right project."

As others continue to spur redevelopment in the East Franklinton arts and innovation district, the Columbus Downtown Development Corp., a nonprofit redevelopment agency tied to the city, plans to create an 8-acre park atop a 620-slot underground parking garage just west of COSI.

The intent is to create interest for commercial and residential development between COSI and a pair of north-south rail lines much as the creation of Columbus Commons has prompted residential and office development south of Capitol Square. "I think the Scioto development depends more on the vitality of East Franklinton," Columbus Development Director Steve Schoeny says, "than the other way around."

Franklinton Board of Trade Executive Director Trent Smith says the spurt of investment and construction activity bodes well for the city's oldest neighborhood. He lauds Kaufman's plans for a dense mixed-use development. "Its innovative design will fill up that entire section of W. Broad Street. It has a lot of character to it."

Smith says the activity along Broad and Rich streets also opens the prospect of drawing development farther west into the heart of Franklinton west of state Route 315, where the former Graham Ford site and, in a few years, portions of the Mount Carmel West campus will offer redevelopment opportunities. "We're looking forward," he says, "to see that momentum in East Franklinton jump 315."

Brian Ball is a freelance writer.