2011 was big year for the Brewery District with the opening of multiple new entertainment venues, but Bill Schottenstein is not content to rest in 2012. As Principle of Arshot Investment Corp. (which owns several buildings in the neighborhood) Schottenstein is looking to capitalize upon these new tenants and bring additional office and residential development to the area soon.
We sat down recently with Bill to find out more about the future has in store for The Brewery District. Our full interview can be found below:
Walker Evans: The Brewery District seems to be a neighborhood that suffers today more from an image problem. The residential and office components of the neighborhood have remained strong while the nightlife aspect has declined in the past decade, which for many people was the main identifier of the area. That seems to be changing recently with the addition of new entertainment destinations like Shadowbox Live and World of Beer. Do you see that as being the ongoing trend right now?
Bill Schottenstein: Well, we certainly hope so. That was part of the impetus to do the Shadowbox Live deal. The Brewery District from the standpoint of residential has always been strong and it’s getting stronger. Some of the rental units down here are the most expensive in the Downtown area and they are basically 98% leased. We know of situations where people have a six month waiting list to get in to an available unit. It’s a very healthy residential market. After Kroger came in, it added an element of support retail that you really don’t have in the other Downtown areas. Especially a newer version of support retail right there.
The Brewery District is also home to a phenomenal creative class. When you look at some of the tenants down there like Chute Gerderman, which is one of the foremost retail design firms not only in the country, but in the world, and you’ve also got MSI+KKG, Red Roof Inn, Event Marketing Strategies, Grange Insurance, and some really nice law firms and engineering firms… the area really has got a good group of tenants.
So it’s almost like you just needed the cherry on the sundae, because as you said, there’s this perception that The Brewery District sort of lost all of its panache because of the loss of the some of the entertainment. And that previous entertainment wasn’t really very good entertainment. Demographically, it served more of a “come down, drink, get sick and leave” crowd. That’s not strong for the area. So what’s happened over the past 10 years is an aging of the demographic.
Walker Evans: What does that demographic change mean for the neighborhood?
Bill Schottenstein: A lot of good things. You get a better psycho-graphic for that demographic. As a result, you have a better clientele. All of that works very well with Shadowbox Live, for example. That was what was so exciting for us because the idea was: here you have this entertainment, but it’s not just entertainment, it’s entertainment that is acceptable to a very large group of the spectrum. From a 20 year old to an 80 year old, everyone can like it. Which is very unusual. So you put that together with some of the other elements… World of Beer, obviously is a beer place, but it’s a different kind of beer place. Its proximity and contiguity with Shadowbox Live is additive as well. So you put all of that together and I think it’s actually helped, to some degree, what Outland’s done. I think it’s helped with Via Vecchia. And they’ve both helped us as well. We’ve got a tremendous interest now in redeveloping Brewmaster’s Gate. We had some interest earlier, but we wanted to wait until Shadowbox Live was settled and World of Beer was open, so that we could work off of those successes. I think the area’s really coming together.
Walker Evans: Do you think that the slight aging of the demographic of the neighborhood has downplayed the importance of entertainment amenities for people who live and work in the Brewery District?
Bill Schottenstein: I’m a bit biased because we’ve got a lot of property down there, but the reality is that anyone coming down for entertainment in the Brewery District could potentially think about living there. I think that’s very different to some degree with the Short North, which is a very different kind of living experience. Very different. This area is still really coming into its own. It went through a meteoric rise through the other entertainment that was there, but you have a very solid, expensive residential product here. Expensive, not in the sense that not everyone can live here, but what’s happened is that supply and demand has pushed the prices to a point that shows that it’s a healthy market. You are not going to be at 98% lease rates if you don’t have a healthy demand for that product.
Walker Evans: Does that high level of demand mean that there are new opportunities for additional residential development in the neighborhood?
Bill Schottenstein: Yes, and one of my next goals with some of the property that we have there is to develop some less expensive product that will allow a different socioeconomic group to get into the neighborhood. We want to expand that spectrum of livability if we can. Edwards is redoing the old Salvation Army building, so you’re going to have 60 more rental units going in there. That’s all good stuff. Now we’ve just got to fill in a couple of the pieces, like a puzzle. I’d personally like to see Handke’s get reinvigorated. It’s a great space. If someone goes to a Shadowbox Live show and they don’t go to the Backstage Bistro, they could go to the Handke’s space first. There’s an opportunity there. And like I said earlier, we’re going to redevelop Brewmaster’s Gate, and there’s some interesting things that will happen with that.
Walker Evans: Anything you can share with us on what that might look like?
Bill Schottenstein: Maybe a portion of it will remain an entertainment venue. The idea, at least at this point, is to put a second floor in it. Even if we put in a second floor, that would still leave a cavity on the first floor that’s over 20 feet high. So that’s plenty of space for any kind of entertainment venue. The second floor would still have a very high cavity as well. It would give us the opportunity to either do offices or residential on the second floor. And we have a couple of other things we could do to the first floor, with either office or retail. We’re getting calls and seeing demand, so now we just need to piece together the right groups. A couple of people have asked if you could do a venue that would hold 600. So it’s kind of in between what ShadowboxLive can handle, it’s not so huge that it’s overwhelming. We can do that and still have additional space on the first floor to use for other purposes. We’re going to go ahead and start doing some one off events in that space until we solidify what our next redevelopment tactic is. But I really do think that residential on the second floor would be great there.
Walker Evans: Certainly having Kroger within a three minute walk would make for a great selling point.
Bill Schottenstein: I’ve lived in Philadelphia and New York and the ability to not have to get in your car all the time is key. We talk about downtown living a lot here in Columbus, but you still have to get in your car to go shopping. Not that people are going to go to Kroger and always carry all of their groceries home, but Kroger’s more than just a grocery store in this situation. You can ride your bike or walk there, they have the sit-down restaurant space inside. Those things make Downtown Columbus more like a typical urban city. If you are going to live Downtown, you want to get your support things done quickly… dry cleaners, getting your haircut, going to a salon, grabbing snacks… it’s all within reach in a nice urban environment.
Walker Evans: And you’ve also got The Scioto Audubon Metro Park essentially serving as the “backyard” of the Brewery District.
Bill Schottenstein: Absolutely, that’s another great draw. That park has developed further than most people are aware with climbing walls and such. You’ve got access to an awful lot of things from the Brewery District: Bicentennial Park, Miranova, The Scioto Mile, and you’re really not very far from Columbus Commons. All really good things.
Walker Evans: Speaking of connectivity, do you think there are additional investments that need to be made in terms of infrastructure to better connect The Brewery District to those nearby amenities?
Bill Schottenstein: There is great benefit to Downtown to have nice, easy access to the Brewery District, because this area has a lot of people in it. You have to have great connectivity, and it has to feel good to use it. Right now the EPA sewer project is under construction, and hopefully when that’s done, we’ll see improvements made to Short Street, which connects under the viaduct to Downtown. Getting rid of some of the one way streets in the Riversouth area was helpful and we need to figure out a way to make Front Street two-way all of the way through Downtown. Cleaning up some of these overhead power lines would also be nice. They are really an eyesore.
So, the short answer is yes. There are infrastructure improvements that they city can do. The beauty of the area to some degree is that this neighborhood has sort of reinvented itself without a lot of largess from the city. Which isn’t true in many other areas. The Brewery District could be one of the true shining stars because when you put it together with German Village, it’s pretty amazing what’s there. You’ve got a true historic area that’s evolved into a modern urban area. It’s gone through all those changes over time and it’s reinvented itself. It’s really exciting.
More information about Arshot Investment Corp. can be found online at arshot.com.
Schottenstein & Guyer Photo Credit: HW Photograhy