If you’ve spent any time in the Arena District lately, you’ve probably noticed quite a few construction projects in the works. Two new office buildings are under way, one new parking garage is being built while another nearby is being expanded, and the new Hilton Hotel towers nearby as well.
There are fewer and fewer places remaining for development within the boundaries of The Arena District, but new acquisitions will allow the neighborhood to continue to grow for years to come. New residential development will eventually be planned west of Huntington Park according to Brian Ellis, President of Nationwide Realty Investors.
We spoke with Brian recently to find out more about the ongoing work in the neighborhood as well as what the future has in store. Our full interview can be found below:
Walker Evans: The Arena District has continued to see a lot of construction moving forward over the past few months. Can you give us a quick recap of everything going on right now?
Brian Ellis: We do have a lot of activity. NRI is working on projects in other markets as well as in other parts of Central Ohio, but the area in and around Downtown is definitely the most active right now. We have as much momentum right now in the Arena District as we’ve ever had. We have over 500,000 square feet of predominantly office space coming online. We have construction at 10 West Nationwide, which will be completed around the end of this year. That will bring more than 1,000 jobs into Downtown in a new 200,000 square foot five-story office building. One of the things we’re excited about with that project is how it creates connectivity with the new Hilton Hotel and the expanded Convention Center Garage. The area between High Street and Front Street is going to be outstanding. Not only the buildings, but also what we are doing to make stronger pedestrian connections.
We also have a new parking garage under construction right now on the west side of The Arena, which will be finished by the end of this year. That garage is phase one of what will ultimately become the new Columbia Gas anchored buildings at 240 and 290 West Nationwide Boulevard. That will add 280,000 square feet of office space, and it looks like Columbia Gas is going to take up more than the 208,000 square feet that they originally committed to, so we’re excited about that. We’ll start construction on that office building in the first part of 2013 and finish it before the end of 2014.
WE: And that new parking garage is a multi-use garage, correct?
BE: Yes, it will be a multi-use garage. It will more than double the amount of parking that was on those lots west of The Arena.
We also have another building that is over 50,000 square feet, which will be anchored by the FBI, located just past Huntington Park. That building is also under construction, and will also be completed later this year. So there’s a lot of positive things happening right now.
We’ve also closed on the former casino site, and we’ll end up with another 30 acres of land there. We see that land predominantly as being used for residential development. We have enough ground over there that we think we can create a really nice neighborhood that will have its own feel.
WE: Some of the speculation I’ve heard says that it may look more like a ‘Harrison West’ and less like a collection of six-story Arena Crossing apartment buildings.
BE: We haven’t designed anything yet for that site, so that really is completely speculation. But I guess I would say that I think it will be a little lower density than what we’ve seen in the heart of The Arena District. Really, we’d like to keep the price points a little more affordable. Candidly, The Arena District is going to always be a relatively expensive address in terms of living. We think that it’s a great value of course, and we’ve had a great reception to what we’ve offered. But we’d like to keep the price point down for that 30 acre expansion, and the best way to do that is to develop at a little lower density. Lower density relative to The Arena District, but not to the degree that you might see in a suburban neighborhood. So I think that’s a good guess, but we really haven’t done anything from a design standpoint yet.
We also acquired what hasn’t been developed yet of The Buggyworks. The condominium complex that Kyle Katz developed is in place and will continue to exist as is, but the undeveloped portions of that property, we’ve acquired.
WE: So that includes the other building adjacent to Huntington Park?
BE: We acquired everything to the east of Firestone Alley and all of the extra ground. We aren’t in the design phase yet on that project either, but I think that it will likely be a predominantly residential project. We’re marketing it right now, so if there’s some office users that want to be in a great historic building, then it could be a good opportunity for that. We’re being patient about that redevelopment, and letting it come to us from a market standpoint.
Overall, that’s what we have going on right now in the Arena District. Obviously we’ve been thrilled with the reception that we’ve gotten from Flats on Vine. Both Flats on Vine and Arena Crossing are very well leased and have been very successful.
WE: One of the great debates of urban infill is “What comes first, the retail or the residents?” It sounds like with the Arena District, it’s taken little steps back and forth in each direction. You’ve added a little office space, then you add a little retail, then you add a little residential and continue to cycle through it. Is that approach intentional, or is it purely market driven?
BE: When we started the development of The Arena District around 2000, we had to establish what The Arena District even was before we could convince people that they wanted to live there. We finished the Arena, a number of commercial buildings, and got some retail established; and then we made the move to develop Arena Crossing.
So that started out pretty well. Arena Crossing has been leased since we opened it. We felt that if we could get people to at least make a one year commitment to rent there and that approach went well, then we could get people to invest in a home there. So then we moved to building Burnham Square and North Bank Condos. Now, we’ve come back to rentals with Flats on Vine. I think that the neighborhood has seen a good residential progression and I think that people really have an appreciation for what’s being offered in The Arena District.
We sort of took the same approach with Grandview Yard, except two things happened differently. Number One: I think people have a better understanding at this point in time of what it’s like to live in a more urban environment. Plus, Grandview Heights is already a strong residential area, so it’s not as much of a stretch as maybe it was ten years ago in The Arena District…
WE: On the site of where an abandoned prison once stood?
BE: Exactly. It was a little more of a stretch to live in the Arena District at first. Secondly, the market is good for apartments right now in general. So I think we were a little more aggressive in terms of getting residential out there in Grandview Yard sooner. We’ll let the market begin to drive it, but what we would like to be able to do is have new apartments coming on the market very consistently, over the next five or so years.
WE: You’re talking about just within Grandview Yard?
BE: Moving back and forth between both Grandview Yard and The Arena District. I think we’ll turn our attention to wherever the next opportunity to do apartments in The Arena District will be, and we’ll try to get those sequenced in there. And then probably head back to Grandview Yard for more apartments there. We’ll integrate some for sale product along the way, but that will depend more on when the for sale market starts to come back. We’ve seen a strong increase in activity at North Bank late last year and this year, so that’s been good. The residential component is an integral part of creating a great neighborhood. So that’s what’s going to be happening in the future from a residential standpoint for us.
WE: Sounds great. Thanks for taking the time today for the update, Brian.
BE: My pleasure.
More information can be found online at www.arenadistrict.com.