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Interview: Bryan Brown on New East Franklinton Development

Brent Warren Brent Warren Interview: Bryan Brown on New East Franklinton Development
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Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority and their partners recently revealed new details of their plan to develop 13 acres in East Franklinton. The project will likely be the first major development shaped by the vision laid out in the East Franklinton Creative Community District Plan – a high-density, mixed-use, urban neighborhood on the western banks of the Scioto River. 

We recently sat down with Bryan Brown, Senior Vice President of Business Development at the CMHA, for an update on the project. See below for excepts from our conversation, including the potential for live/work units, a possible affordable component of the development, and his thoughts on how this project fits within the mission of CMHA.

Q: The apartments in this development, are they all going to be market-rate?

A: Yes, it’s a market-rate redevelopment. I will say we are committed to a percentage of what I call affordable market and what the mayor might call workforce housing. And so people ask me about the rent range – it’s hard to answer what the starting rent will be, because I don’t know what the city investment will be to support that starting rent. Because the thing about developing workforce housing is it really requires a public investment to bring those rents down. To have a commensurate investment to offset cost of construction, so you can afford, as an operator, to offer those rents at an affordable rate.

Q: The city has rolled out a program – Housing Works – is that going to be a part of this project?

A: That’s my hope – working together with the city, we are willing, interested and committed to a percentage of those units being affordable market/workforce housing at a rate that meets the mayor’s definition of workforce housing. And so we want to work together with the city to achieve that.

It’s just a matter of how much do we need for how many units – none of that’s been determined at this point. Once we get a definitive plan for what the first phase will look like, and the number of units, then we can work with the city on the number – then it’s just a math equation about how much subsidy do we need.

Q: Will the redevelopment of the warehouses be happening at the same time as the first phase of new construction?

A: Woda is working on the warehouses, Casto-Weiler is working on their first phase, and those two things are happening simultaneously.

I’m guessing 220 units for what I’d call Phases 1-A and 1-B – meaning out of that 220, 110 might be 1-A, and once that’s under construction, and the financing comes in for 1-B, you could start on the second part.

Q: There’s been some talk about a larger tower for the western portion of the site.

A: That’s more like phase three or four – that’s down the road. There’s a total of 12 to 13 acres. Phase one is roughly Cherry Drive to just West of Lucas – phase two from there to over to McDowell. Phase three might be from where those are built to the floodwall, then from McDowell west you’ve got Sunshine Annex, and the Sunshine Tower site, and that might be phase four. And we’ll keep this team intact for all the phases.

phased-map

Q: What was it about this team that appealed to CMHA?

A: They stood out because you have the desire for some mixed-use – ground floor retail or commercial, and then residential. So Casto is one of the leading developers in the country of commercial/retail development. Weiler and Donald Kelly are the deans of the multi-family development community in Central Ohio, so you’ve got those two coming together to form a larger team, and they’re bringing with them Moody Nolan Architects, and Smoot Construction and Simco Construction, so you’ve got a nice mix, and some of the most successful developers in Central Ohio.

And, they understand that Franklinton is its own unique location – they’re very in-tune and enthusiastic about the culture of East Franklinton. It’s a warehouse district, people want it to be creative, not traditional in terms of development, so you’re bringing traditional experience that is embracing the more forward-thinking design – that’s what I liked about it. You want a track record of success – this is an emerging neighborhood, there’s a lot of interest in it – but it’s unproven, untested, so you want a marriage of creativity and track record, and that’s what they brought to the table.

Q: Can you talk at this stage about what form the buildings will take? Is it correct there will there be two five-story buildings in that first phase?

A: I think the five stories includes some thinking around how to integrate parking into the site – so you might have some mixed-use on Rich Street, what could be a retail/commercial space, but with a living unit above – a live/work space. The concept is that as the Rich Street Corridor develops, you might not initially have enough market demand for stand-alone retail, and this design would give us some flexibility that we can adapt over time. So live/work, with parking behind, then traditional apartments above that.

We’re trying to effectively use the Rich Street frontage while accommodating parking – including the demands of the 400 West Rich studio users when Urban Growth Solutions eventually builds on the other side of Lucas – they’re using that gravel lot right now, and they’ll need a place to park too.

The team is trying to be sensitive to not over-park the development – we don’t want a monolithic garage that doesn’t fit the neighborhood. On the other hand we don’t want to overdevelop the neighborhood without thinking about parking. That requires a lot of collaboration, a lot of thought, and a lot of mutual support.

Rendering of potential infill development on Lucas Street via the East Franklinton Creative Community District Plan.

Rendering of potential infill development on Lucas Street via the East Franklinton Creative Community District Plan.

Q: Do you think the market is there for all these apartments?

A: If you’ve looked at the Downtown market – it’s expensive. So I think there’s an untapped market in terms of housing – the $800 to $1,200 or $1,500 a month – there is no market for that Downtown. We think there are a lot of people that would love to live proximate to Downtown but in that price point. And it’s that creative entrepreneurial class, too, that we know loves Franklinton. If given the option, would live there.

Q: What’s the timeline for the first phase of the project?

A: Right now we’re working with our team members on design, then we have to put together a financing package and get approvals and permits. I would anticipate that, if we stay on the path we’re on now, a spring of 2015 groundbreaking should be achievable.

Q: Would you call this project a departure for CMHA?

A: Yes, this is not typically what the housing authority has ever done, however the site that we happen to own lends itself to this kind of redevelopment – that’s why we’ve selected the expertise we’ve selected to help bring it to fruition.

Q: And how does it fit into the mission of the organization?

A: We believe that by offering an affordable market product, we are still fulfilling our mission of providing affordable options to the community. This is an affordable option in what is otherwise a high-price market, so we think there is a role to play in providing some affordable options in that high-price market – so that’s one thing.

The other thing, though, is that we are engaging in this redevelopment to make money on purpose. Because we have to generate net revenue in order to provide high quality affordable housing options for low-income members of our community.

Without earned revenue, we will not be able to do that in the future – so we are looking at some strategic opportunities to generate revenue that can then offset the cost associated with the other part of our mission, which is providing affordable housing for truly low-income people.

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