Commercial real estate spotlight: Hamilton Quarter develops 320 acres

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

Northeast Columbus vacant land assembled decades ago is ready for development in a new joint venture.

Signs at North Hamilton and East Dublin Granville roads have long teased passersby with messages promoting a mixed-use development on a site between Westerville and New Albany where the Casto development organization had started assembling land about 50 years ago.

While a speculative office building and some housing got built at the state Route 161 expressway and Hamilton Roads more than a decade ago, few other indications emerged that what was once dubbed Albany Park would become a major development.

Until now.

A joint venture among Casto, the venerable New Albany Company Ltd. investment behemoth and commercial developer Daimler Group Inc. has launched a $250 million, 320-acre office, retail and housing development under the revised Hamilton Quarter moniker.

When built out during the next several years, the partnership expects to construct up to 700,000 square feet of office space, one million square feet of retail, more than 800 multifamily units and one or two hotels.

"It's the last undeveloped interchange within the city of Columbus limits," Columbus Development Director Steve Schoeny says. "So it's a pretty valuable piece of property in the city and the Columbus region."

Anticipation of the Hamilton Road connector project, in fact, had already spurred development activity in Hamilton Quarter. Methodist ElderCare Services expects to open 120 units of senior housing and assisted-living residences this year on 38 acres purchased from New Albany Company.

An even bigger endorsement of the project came in April when off-price retailer Big Lots announced it would build a 320,000-square-foot office building close to the interchange for its relocated and expanded headquarters. Slated to get under construction late this year, the building will replace Big Lots' existing offices on Phillipi Road north of West Broad Street, where the company will keep its gigantic distribution operations. Big Lots also plans to add a store in the retail portion of the development.

"Big Lots is a huge catalyst and helps move other things forward," Schoeny says. "It helps establish a (retail) customer base, and we think it will spur additional retail."

Casto Partner Don Casto III says the developer bought the first 300 acres of what is now Hamilton Quarter land in the 1960s. Those holdings were expanded in the mid-1970s by another 200 acres. Some of that farmland well south of the interchange was sold off over the years for single-family and multifamily projects. "We had hoped development would occur over the next 20 to 30 years," Casto says.

But it took the city's commitment in mid-2015 to help fund $27.4 million in road improvements to provide the key in launching Hamilton Quarter decades after the New Albany Co. had turned the village of New Albany into an upscale housing and corporate office and distribution center powerhouse. Hamilton Road and the Route 161 interchange did not align when the expressway went in, creating traffic congestion as commercial and residential development went ahead along Hamilton north of Morse Road.

"What allows this to be fully developed is the city's commitment to the 'S' curve (connector) and ancillary roads," Casto says. "That's the last piece of the puzzle." Not that the area hadn't already proved lucrative.

Full speed ahead in New Albany

Daimler Group in the late 1990s built an 87,000-square-foot speculative office property at the Hamilton interchange amid expectation the Albany Park project could capture some of those companies looking at the New Albany International Business Park a few miles to the east. Basket-weaver Longaberger once had ancillary administrative operations in the property before the Newark-based company retrenched amid faltering sales. HealthSCOPE Benefits, a claims administration and health management company, now anchors that fully leased building.

Columbus developer Robert Weiler Co. also had developed or sold off much of the 300 acres it had assembled north of the interchange in the 1980s and early 1990s for single-family subdivisions and apartments. The rental housing included joint venture projects between Weiler and Casto over the years. "What makes the whole area popular is the success the New Albany Co. had in New Albany and Columbus (to the east) and the employment their (business park) created," Weiler Co. Chairman Bob Weiler says. "I think (the Hamilton Quarter mixed-use project) makes for a vast opportunity and will be a home run for Casto, New Albany Co. and Daimler."

The New Albany International Business Park, in fact, has already attracted nearly $2 billion in investment spread among 9.8 million square feet of office, distribution and light production facilities boasting nearly 13,800 employees. Much of the most recent development has occurred within the park's Beauty and Personal Care Campus off Beech Road that has attracted several companies building components of various health and beauty products, including packaging. The impact at the Beauty Campus is impressive with its $436 million in investments for 4.6 million square feet and the creation of 2,800 jobs.

In recent years, the park stretching from the Route 161 interchange in Columbus to beyond the Beech Road interchange in Licking County also has attracted data centers and other operations for such companies as Columbia Gas parent NiSource, Downtown Columbus-based Motorists Mutual Insurance and American Electric Power and, still under construction, the web services division of The latter alone represents a $300 million investment for one of three Big Data complexes the technology company is building in greater Columbus.

"It's gratifying to see the number of companies new to the state and new to the region that have selected New Albany, invested here and generated thousands of jobs," says New Albany Company President Bill Ebbing in written remarks.

Both Ebbing and Jennifer Chrysler, the city of New Albany's director of community and economic development, credit the city's investment of roads, utility lines and fiber optic cable on land the developer has annexed into the city for a steady flow of projects even through the Great Recession.

"It has been sustained opportunities, one after another," Chrysler says. "Those investments have really positioned the business park for growth."

That momentum continues with expectation that the presence of Amazon Web Services, the Bob Evans Farms headquarters and other high-profile corporate operations will attract other businesses already considering New Albany for operations even as the park expands development sites within its Water's Edge campus and extends its land holdings toward Mink Street in Licking County's Jersey Township.

"We have a nice pipeline of companies interested," Chrysler says. "We're hoping many of them will make the decision to locate here."

Brian Ball is a freelance writer.