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Two Buildings on Key Block Downtown Undergoing Renovations

Brent Warren Brent Warren Two Buildings on Key Block Downtown Undergoing RenovationsPhoto by Brent Warren.
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Work is set to begin soon on the renovation of a three-story building at 44 N. High St. downtown, between Broad and Gay streets. Plans call for four residential units on the upper floors with the retail incubator POP Columbus eventually slated to occupy the ground level.

“These four units will be really spectacular and unique spaces,” said Lauren Tonti of the Tonti Organization, the building’s owner. She cited in particular the building’s 16-foot ceilings, some of which still feature their original pressed-tin covering.

The nearly 100-year-old building has seen many tenants over the years, including the Marshall Printing Company in the 1930’s, Herman’s food store in the 1960’s, and, more recently, offices above a first-floor restaurant. The Tonti Organization has owned the building since 1962.

“Seeing the tin ceiling peaking out above the dropped ceiling, that’s what made me want to do this project in the first place,” said Tonti, who represents the fourth generation of her family to work in the real estate business in Columbus. Her great-grandfather got his start fixing up buildings during the Great Depression, then started building single family homes on the Hilltop and in other neighborhoods after World War II.

Tonti started at the company about five years ago and now manages the company’s varied holdings, which are scattered throughout the region. She has taken a special interest in the downtown properties, though, which also includes a six-story office building at 34 N. High St.

“We’re also in the process of updating that building,” Tonti said. “We’re finishing space on the fifth floor – it has beautiful old hardwood that we discovered under layers of other flooring, some great brick walls, high ceilings and tons of natural light.”

“We think it will be a great place for office users looking for creative, loft style space in the heart of downtown,” she said, adding that there has been plenty of interest in the space, but “parking is the biggest issue.”

The office building also has a 5,000 square foot retail space on the ground floor, a former CVS, that Tonti plans to renovate soon.

Despite a proven market in Columbus for historic office space – and many large-scale residential developments under construction – the two projects illustrate the challenges that come with renovating and marketing these types of smaller buildings downtown.

Tonti said she is excited about Capital Crossroads’ plan to provide free bus passes for some downtown workers, and is hopeful that the program would help to ease the anxiety some potential tenants have about moving into a building downtown without attached parking.

She also sees the POP Columbus concept – which would provide a white-boxed space for independent retailers to rent out on a temporary basis – as a promising idea that will help to overcome some of the barriers that have kept smaller local business from moving into storefronts downtown.

“We think POP will be a great addition to the area and look forward to having the store up and running,” she said, adding that the space should be ready for its first tenant by spring of next year.

All photos by Brent Warren.

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