Joe Armeni on 30 Years of Rehabs and New-Builds in the Short North
Joe Armeni has had a front row seat for the Short North’s long transition from troubled to trendy. As a realtor and developer – he heads up New Victorians as well as a RE/MAX office based in Harrison West – Armeni has been living and working in the neighborhood for more than 30 years.
His long list of projects includes renovations in Victorian Village, new single-family homes in Italian Village, and larger-scale developments like the York on High Condos. All told, he has developed over 400 units in the Short North – and has plenty more on the drawing board.
It’s this experience that made Armeni a prime candidate for the latest in our series of interviews with developers and others who are shaping the Short North. He recently talked with CU about his history in the neighborhood, the coming explosion of development in Italian Village, and his thoughts on what the future holds for the apartment and condo market in Columbus.
Q: Can you talk a little about your background, and how you got into the business?
A: We’ve been building for almost 30 years. I was a real estate major at Ohio State, graduated in 1981, bought my first double in 1979 – I’ve been doing this a long, long, long time. In Victorian Village, we bought 812 Neil Ave for $24,000 in the early 80’s, and people thought we were nuts. I’ve lived in Victorian Village for over 30 years.
We work in Harrison West, Victorian Village and Italian Village, and I also have a Remax agency – for that, the Short North is only 10 to 15 percent of our business – but in terms of our projects, we have our offices on Third in Harrison West, and there’s real a convenience to having most of our projects in the area.
Q: There’s a lot of activity in Italian Village right now – lots of different new-build projects in the pipeline – do see that continuing?
A: Yes, and not just for us, for anybody – there’s no land left in Harrison West and Victorian Village. We have forty lots in Italian Village, a lot of them big enough for two-to-four units, some of them we’ve owned for 20 years. It will probably take us three to four years to develop what we have in Italian Village.
Q: What do you see for the future of the Short North? It’s definitely changed – it’s not the bohemian, artist enclave that it once was..
A: The starving artists aren’t there anymore – they never paid their rent, anyway [laughs]. Artists are always the first wave. Rents in the neighborhood are actually ridiculous now – people are paying these amounts because they are afraid to buy. In the next couple of years, you’ll see a lot more condo conversions – which is good for the neighborhood, condos are good for stabilization.
I think in Victorian Village we’re seeing the second and third renovations of houses, so that will continue – places that were renovated twenty years ago, people want those updated. There are still some that haven’t been renovated, but not many, maybe five percent.
We’ve seen the pricing in Victorian Village as being ten to twenty percent higher than Italian Village – that will begin to even out in the next three to five years. You’re not going to recognize Italian Village – there will be a lot of development, including commercial and mixed-use development on North Fourth Street, which could turn into something more like South Third Street in German Village.
Q: What about other neighborhoods?
A: Weinland Park at some point will develop…it’s still a pretty rough area, and there are still a lot of foreclosures in the neighborhood. There have been a lot of speculators, who have bought thinking the neighborhood is going to explode, and then have just sat on their properties. The Wagenbrenner piece, when that comes online, that will do a lot to stabilize the neighborhood. Campus will continue to be good.
Q: Speaking of campus, what do you think about the sophomore rule and the effect that will have on the rental market in the neighborhood?
A: I have a freshman at OSU, going into her sophomore year, and she’ll be living in the dorms again – the pricing is astronomical…what they charge for a small dorm room – that will bring up rents for everyone. But the campus area will always be a stable market – transient, but stable, lots of one-year leases, or course, but they will be able to fill them. The sophomore rule will have no effect at all.
Q: A lot of projects that started as condos switched over to rentals. Do you see the condo market coming back?
A: It never left the Short North. The last five years were devastating to suburbia, but the worst you could say about the market in the Short North is that it’s been flat, which is pretty good considering what happened in other areas. Our York on High project, we’re down to only three units left out of 25.
Q: Parking is an issue that is getting a lot of attention lately in the Short North…
A: Well, we’re lucky in that most residential areas – at least compared to somewhere like German Village – have sufficient parking, enough for the residents that live there. Parking on High Street is an issue, but you only have to go one to two blocks off High to find spots. With Pizutti’s garage coming online, and the new Hubbard garage – those will help a lot. Where you see an issue is when new units are going up on High that don’t have parking, but it will be interesting to see the effect of the new garages.
Q: There’s a lot of interest from our readership about new transportation options in Columbus, whether that’s the street car proposal, light rail, or other ideas. What are your thoughts on bringing that kind of thing to the neighborhood?
A: I don’t see it happening at all. Would it be nice? Sure, but like I said, when you go two block off High Street there is parking, and with the expense of building a system, I don’t think it’s likely.
Q: What’s next for New Victorians?
A: In August or September, we’d like to start on a property we’ve owned forever at 285 East 4th Avenue – a former church, at the corner of North 6th – we’ll develop it as eight condos.
Another renovation is a building that we bought in May of 2013, at 244 East Third Ave. It’s a 1960’s building, one of the ugliest around, actually, but when we get done with it it will look phenomenal on the outside. It currently has one-bedroom apartments, but we haven’t decided on the final layout after renovation – we’ll do it at condo-grade, and may sell the units as condos, but that hasn’t been decided yet. We also own some of the properties across Third Avenue, so that whole quadrant – at the intersection of Third and Peru Alley – will look spectacular.
Q: Thanks for talking with us.
A: You’re welcome.
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