Courtesy of Lauren Lawley, Columbus Business First
Century-old properties in the Warehouse District have undergone extensive renovation work and are now creating a community revival by blending apartments, trendy office space, dining and entertainment.
The neighborhood-building approach in the Warehouse District is part of a larger trend seen in real estate developments across Columbus. Gravity II in Franklinton and The Peninsula downtown are recent examples of projects using a live-work-play model, joining more established developments such as the Arena District, Easton Town Center and Polaris.
“Developers are not just targeting one-off office buildings in their projects anymore,” said Clayton Davis, managing director of real estate services firm JLL’s Columbus office. “They’re trying to think about what the experience looks like when you pull into the area at 7 a.m., work all day and then walk out your office doors at 5 p.m. What do you have access to without ever having to get in your car? The one difference that the Warehouse District brings is it has +/- 400,000 square feet of historic buildings with a ton of character and rich history, that you can’t find nor afford to build today. At least not at the scale the Columbus Warehouse District can provide.”
The Warehouse District dates to the 1800s, when manufacturing and warehouse businesses began to spring up around the railway north of Columbus’ business hub. The jobs attracted residents, and the area flourished along with the railroads.
Some of the key properties remain from the district’s original heyday. The Bradford Shoe Co. building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Schoedinger building, which first housed the FOSCO sheet metal company, and the Bobb Co. building, which served as a wholesale grocery warehouse, still stand as reminders of the district’s warehousing roots.
“At that point in time, there was a lot of the original Irish immigrants living and working in the area, anything from shoe repair to buggy repair to vegetable produce,” Davis said. “A lot of these buildings have history and character. We have been working hard to maintain sight of that by bringing that history back out into the building environments.”
As America turned away from rail and toward the highways, the Warehouse District declined. By the 1970s, most of the district was vacant. In July 2000, when City Council adopted its plan for land use, development and urban design in the district, 20% of the area was vacant and about a third was used for parking.
Two decades after the city set its redevelopment sights on turning the Warehouse District into a mixed-use community, that vision is taking shape. One of the most recent projects is developed by Hackman Capital Partners, which has renovated 11 historic buildings, creating 412,191 square feet of office space across nearly four acres. The area also has added new restaurants, apartment buildings and entertainment venues.
The project has adjusted since the pandemic, said Davis, who serves as the leasing broker for Hackman Capital properties. The pause in business interest in new office space prompted the team to focus on an entertainment venue called The Kee. There, New York-based Center Square is planning a blend of community center activities, such as concerts, fitness classes and art exhibits, along with a bar and restaurant scheduled to open this September.
“[The pandemic has meant that] it’s taken us longer to get where we’re at today than anyone had intended,” Davis said. “But now with the messaging going out that companies are coming back, people are trying to figure out what that looks like and they are looking for creative spaces to help draw, not force, those employees back in.”
The transformation of the Warehouse District is still a work in progress. Davis said more amenities are in the works, as are plans for new construction and streetscape improvements.
“Fifty to 100 years from now, I hope people say we didn’t just put new paint on an old building,” he said. “We took that history and extracted it out into the environment, not just to the existing assets but to the new projects that we come up with as well. We didn’t lose sight of what that district was and why it was created to begin with.”
For a summary and analysis of Columbus’ current economic and office real estate market conditions, download JLL’s Q1 2022 Columbus Office Insight Report.