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Elford Celebrates 100 Years of Building Columbus

Walker Evans Walker Evans Elford Celebrates 100 Years of Building ColumbusPhoto via Elford.
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Local construction company Elford, Inc was founded in Columbus in 1910, which means they are celebrating their 100th Anniversary this year. To commemorate the occasion, the company has put together a historic book containing photos, stories and images of their various projects from the past century.

We recently sat down with Jim Smith, President of Elford, to discuss the past, present and future of their company and our city.

Walker Evans: Tell us a little bit about the book and why it was put together.

Jim Smith: The purpose of the book was to capture the last century for the next century. We’ve always kept a lot of good information in our archives. We want people to have an essence of who we are, where we’ve been, and what we’re capable of. In a world of “What have you done for me lately?” we want to show that the longevity that we’ve demonstrated is backed up by substance and quality projects.

We started the book with a little story about Pop Elford who founded the organization in 1910, and then we broke the book up into decades. Each decade has a series of photos and job owners we’ve worked with and a little narrative. I think it’s really interesting talking about what urban development meant in the 1930s and 1940s. During that time we built 19 bridges which really expanded the city of Columbus west of the Olentangy and Scioto Rivers. You had Franklinton, but everything north of 5th Ave before then was country and farmland. Ohio State was in the country.

WE: The story in the book about the Dublin Bridge was pretty amusing.

JS: Yes, the Dublin bridge on 161 was a project that we did during the Depression. We actually tied with another contractor on bid day, and the bid was settled with a coin toss, believe it or not. Thankfully, we won that coin toss and that project kept our company alive during the Depression.

In the 60s we built a couple of significant buildings that are still standing today. The St. Anthony Hospital is one, now known as OSU East. We built the Christopher Inn, but that is now gone. We built 11 buildings for Battelle. We’ve been working with them for sixty years, which makes them our oldest repeat customer.

WE: There was a development lull in the 70s in Columbus but it looks like the company managed to adapt.

JS: Yes, the 70s were tough economically here in Central Ohio. During the 80s, we rebounded with some retail and banking projects. In the early 80s we made a transition in ownership to the great-nephew of the Elfords, Tom Fitzpatrick. We went through kind of a re-grouping and a restarting for the company. That’s when we started with healthcare development work and by the early 90s we were booming with healthcare projects. More recently we’ve completed the McConnell Health Center and the new Dublin Hospital.

WE: One of my favorite Downtown buildings, The Smith Brothers Hardware building was one of your biggest renovation projects in here.

JS: The Smith Bros building had been vacant for many years and we were hired to essentially rebuild it. That was a monstrosity of a structure. You could drive a tank on those floors.

WE: It sounds like Elford has always had a wide variety of projects types from infrastructure to industrial to office to restorations. Does the longevity of the company have to do with being flexible to the types of projects that are in demand?

JS: The diversity of our projects has increased as the company evolved. It was diverse early on, but in fewer sectors because there were fewer opportunities. Since the 50s and 60s we’ve been pretty diverse as far as the markets we participate in too. We work throughout the the state of Ohio but our home is here in Columbus. We have to maintain that market diversity to thrive. When healthcare is down, retail or industrial or education might be up. Maintaining that diversity has been important for us to keep a wide range of repeat customers.

WE: Looking through the book, I can’t help but be a little sad that so many of these historic buildings in Columbus don’t exist anymore. I think the oldest standing building Elford built might be the Belmont Casket building in the Arena District.

JS: Yes, I think it is completely gutted now and refurbished for office use.

WE: Do you think there’s been a lost opportunity in Columbus for historic restoration with some of these buildings that have been demolished?

JS: Yes and no. The needs of the community always change over the decades. In the early days we were building heavy industrial buildings that aren’t always well-suited for modern office usage. So some of those opportunities are lost. If the Christopher Inn hadn’t been demolished, the Columbus Museum of Art would not have been able to expand. Our museum is a beautiful building. That’s not one that we built, but it is beautiful.

WE: Looking back over the past 100 years, are you able to make any kind of predictions on where Columbus is growing and how Elford will play a role in shaping the city in the future decades?

JS: I think higher education is going to continue to grow. We’ve been working in higher education now over the last few years, and I see our involvement remaining strong in that market. I think we’ll see a resurgence in remote university campuses and how they grow. I would love to hear that there will be more industrial development in Columbus. I think we could be attracting new high tech jobs with the Third Frontier initiative. Hopefully we’ll continue to position ourselves well to support pharmaceutical and healthcare development. I think Columbus is prime location for new tech industries.

WE: I spoke recently with Ty Marsh at the Columbus Chamber and he shared a lot of great information on logistical developments that are in the pipeline.

JS: Yes, Columbus is in a perfect location for logistical development. We’ve had some growth in distribution centers around here recently. With the new CSX hub and growth at Rickenbacker we’ll continue to see that sector grow. It’s a very exciting time to be in Columbus, Ohio.

WE: In terms of regional growth, what sort of development trends do you think we’ll see inside 270 versus outside of 270 over the next few years?

JS: I think we’ll see more senior living and elder care outside 270. Additionally, senior living drives other development like retail. Inside 270 though is a difficult market to predict but I think will learn more towards growth with high-tech industries. Overall, everything is in a bit of a lull right now because of the housing industry, though Columbus is very resilient. Still, our region’s population will continue to grow and I think predictions are indicating a lot of that growth will happen to the northeast. Of course, infrastructure will have to be improved to make that happen.

The other big growth industry will be healthcare services as our community continues to age. So there are development opportunities there, as healthcare facilities are constantly changing and upgrading. We are currently doing the Grant Hospital expansion work Downtown.

WE: Well, in addition to the look back at the history of the company, I hope we’ll continue to see more ongoing updates as new projects move forward. I think there’s been a resurgence of public interest in development projects in our communities.

JS: Agreed. When a new construction project starts up, people drive by it everyday and watch it happening, but they want to also know the details of what it’s all about. There are stories there and we want to continue to share those stories.

More information can be found online at www.elford.com/Anniversary100.

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