Developer plans apartments at Columbus Commons

By Doug Caruso | 04 Apr, 2012

Six-story, red-brick apartment buildings are to begin rising over the Columbus Commons in August under a plan that begins the redevelopment of the former Columbus City Center mall site years earlier than expected.
 
Carter, the nation’s third-largest commercial developer last year based on square footage, is purchasing 2 acres of the commons along High Street for $2 million from the Capitol South Community Urban Redevelopment Corp. The Atlanta-based developer plans to invest a total of $50 million to construct two buildings with 300 apartments and 23,000 square feet of first-floor retail space.
 
Capitol South chose Carter after two rounds of proposals for the site, Guy Worley, president of the nonprofit development group, said today.
 
“Carter really met our objectives in regards to the density and the look and the quality of the design,” Worley said. Carter has experience with another signature residential and retail project on the Cincinnati riverfront between the city’s baseball and football stadiums, he said.
 
Carter’s interest shows that public investments in Downtown are paying off, said Mayor Michael B. Coleman.
 
“You cannot disconnect public investment elsewhere with private investment here,” Coleman said, pointing to the Columbus Commons, Scioto Mile, new bridges and a plan announced yesterday to create parkland along the Scioto River.
 
Scott Taylor, president of Carter, said trends in Columbus’ Downtown made it a good investment.
 
“The vision that Mayor Coleman and Capitol South and the Columbus Partnership have for Downtown is extraordinary,” he said. “Columbus has a tremendous amount of momentum. You don’t see that in a lot of markets through the United States.”
 
He noted that five-year occupancy rates for Downtown apartments are above 95 percent and annual rent growth is 2.4 percent.
 
Rents at the Columbus Commons apartments would range from about $960 per month for a 600-square-foot studio to about $2,500 for a 1,600-square-foot townhome, Taylor said. That’s similar to the $1.60 per-square-foot price seen in other high-end Columbus apartments, he said.
 
The project should be completed by late 2014, Worley and Taylor said.

In the next few weeks, Capitol South will take its plans before the Columbus City Council and the Downtown Commission. The council would have to sign off on the sale of the property and on a tax-increment financing district that would set aside new property taxes there for streets and other infrastructure improvements nearby.
 
The property is already under a 10-year property-tax abatement, so the tax-increment district would go into effect after that expires, Worley said. He said the tax set-aside would not affect school taxes.
 
Coleman said the abatement and the tax-increment financing district helped close the gap to make the deal possible.
 
“Without those, this would not have occurred,” he said.

The Downtown Commission would review whether the project design fits in with Downtown.
 
Capitol South originally planned to announce the project next week. Worley and others agreed to talk after The Dispatch, citing the Ohio Open Records Act, requested and obtained a copy of the presentation that Capitol South officials were taking around to city leaders.
 
In 2009, Capitol South and city officials announced a plan to tear down the nearly empty City Center mall and replace it with a 9-acre park. The plan retained 1,000 parking spaces in an underground garage beneath the park and 3,600 spaces in garages nearby. In five to 10 years, Worley said then, new retail, residential and office developments would rise around the borders of the park, and a 6-acre park would remain in the middle.
 
Capitol South, which was created to oversee the development of City Center in the 1980s, purchased the struggling mall in 2007 for $2.88 million. Demolishing the mall and turning it into a park cost about $20 million, with $15 million coming from Capitol South, $3 million from Franklin County and $2 million from Franklin County Metro Parks.
 
The apartment plan, starting just three years after the 2009 announcement, would cover three of the four building sites with two, six-story red-brick apartment buildings along the east side of High Street, roughly between State and Rich streets. A wide, tree-lined lane is to be left open in the center for access to the park from High Street, and a pedestrian arcade would tunnel through the first floor of the southern-most building.
 
Ground-floor restaurants would face onto High Street, the arcade and the park, Taylor said, giving people a variety of indoor and outdoor seating options, including on patios facing the park.
 
“It’ll be a European experience there with lots of activity,” he said.

The remaining building site, at the southeast corner of 3rd and Rich streets, awaits a major employer willing to build an office tower there, Worley said.
 
The apartments will be marketed to young professionals, many of whom are already on waiting lists for other apartment complexes Downtown, Worley said. Amenities will include a second-floor swimming pool overlooking the park.
 
“There’s a strong demand for new rental residential product Downtown, and I don’t see that ending any time soon,” Worley said. The buildings could eventually be converted to condominiums, and the units will have the amenities to make that possible, he said.