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Michael Schiff Checks the Urban Pulse of Columbus – Part 2

Walker Evans Walker Evans Michael Schiff Checks the Urban Pulse of Columbus – Part 2
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Continued from Part 1 of our Interview with Michael Schiff.

Q: In terms of your Downtown projects – you’re working on the Atlas Building and LeVeque Tower – do you see the retail component coming along for those or is that an area of concern? 

A: Well, I’m part of LeVeque, I’m part owner, but my partner Bob Meyers runs the LeVeque project. One hundred percent, the retail of the Atlas project is very critical to the success of the Atlas project. We really need that retail to get leased and do well, so it’s very important to us. I believe that there’s demand, we’ll see. We were full with tenants, who were all happy, but in order to do the renovation you had to clear them out. So we feel the retail’s critical. On the demand, I think Highpoint on Columbus Commons is leasing up pretty well, so for Atlas, we believe and hope we’ll get some quality retail tenants in there, but the jury’s still out.

Q: What do you see as some of the challenges for the Short North in the next five years?

A: Well, parking is an issue, but that’s really it. I think the Short North is as solid an area as there is in the Midwest – its one of the hottest real estate markets in the Midwest. Look at the fact that you had the Ibiza developers pay $4.7 million for 1.4 acres of land – that’s very big money. And, granted they were getting a TIFF for the parking garage, but I think the Short North is an A-plus, blue chip location that is only going to get better and better. And as all these new, higher-end residential projects get completed, like Pizzuti’s hotel, and now they’re talking about doing another hotel next to the convention center, all that just spurs the whole situation.

Q: Do you see the condo market coming back? Or some of the apartments being built now eventually turning over to condos?

A: I think definitely, as the market changes, and for-sale becomes hot again versus for-rent – which I think may not happen for awhile – you’ll definitely see some conversions from apartments to condos. But that being said, in the Short North, as evidenced by our Aston Row townhomes, if you build for-sale in the Short North, they’ll sell.

My thinking is – I can’t afford to make mistakes, unlike some of the bigger people – so I try and be disciplined, and only go with what I consider to be “A” locations.  So, even if there’s a downturn or a crash, you’re still going to be able to survive, and the rents are not going to get killed. If you talk to Mark Wood, he’ll tell you that in the Short North, the occupancy has stayed pretty steady and the rent has stayed pretty steady.

Q: As the Short North develops, and there are fewer and fewer empty lots, do you see the kind of development happening now in the Short North moving to other neighborhoods?

A: I mean my focus has been so much on the Short North, I’ve been so tunnel-vision on that, but I’m sure, it’s like anything… I think it’d be a natural progression, that the areas tangential to the Short North get better as the Short North fully matures. That’s why I wish in the Short North they’d allow for taller buildings. Someday, when it’s fully developed all of us around here will be wishing we’d made more of the opportunity. So I think the demand will always be there, and once its saturated, and matured, and maxed out, it’ll definitely move to other tangential areas.

Q: What about Downtown, do you see those surface parking lots filling in?

A: Yes. You’ve got the new Edwards project at Gay and High, and Columbus Commons and all over, really. In 20o1, I was in the mayor’s office with about 3o local business people, listening to the mayor’s strategy on how to get 10,000 units of residential downtown. That was the goal then, and he’s done a great job of executing that goal – I think we’re up now to about 7,500, so I think the undeveloped lots will either be developed or they’ll be turned into parking garages, maybe with apartments above. I think you’ll see a lot more development, especially if things do well.

Q: Can you provide any updates on the different projects you have going? Any new projects in the works?

A: The Two Fish building, we should be starting that renovation probably in the next 45 days. Right now there are 40 apartments up there, and when we’re done there’s going to be 35 because we’re making them bigger, and much nicer. The old units had kind of weird layouts, so they’ll have better layouts, and be kind of condo-style apartments.

I’m working on a new project with Snyder Barker, who I did Aston Place with, and also with Scott Pickett. We have some ground under contract on Michigan Avenue – 144 units, brand new – we think there’s a good niche for that, because not everybody who wants to live in the Short North can necessarily afford to pay the rents on and around High Street. We’re going to provide nice new units over there – some come with garages even – at a lower price points. That project is still going through the approval process, but getting closer, I would hope we’d break ground on the project this year, but I’m not 100% sure.

Generally, I’m just bullish on all of the urban stuff. Everything that’s happening in Columbus is happening all over the US, but there’s a need for it here more than there is in a lot of other places. I jones for the pulse of New York City. If you go to the Short North on a Saturday at 5 o’clock on, there’s bumper to bumper traffic, and the sidewalks are packed, so it is our version of New York City. It’s legit. You’ve got Anthropologie, national retail coming in, national restaurants, and Cameron Mitchell, which we’re lucky to have locally but is basically a national operation.

We’ve got a lot on the drawing board. Not necessarily all urban, but we’re looking at several projects right now, some medical office and senior housing, and a few more multifamily deals, non-urban. But still, just executing these deals with Mark Wood, like the La Fogata building. The existing tenant’s lease is up in the next couple of years, so we’ve been approached by numerous restaurants about taking it over. We want to bring in something great for the neighborhood. One thing we’d consider is leaving that building for another restaurant, and potentially building some apartments above, on top of that.

Q: Thanks for talking with us!

A: You’re welcome.

CLICK HERE to jump back to Part 1 of our Interview with Michael Schiff.

For more information, visit www.schiffcapital.com.

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