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Apartments Planned for Historic Building that Tells the Story of a Neighborhood

Brent Warren Brent Warren Apartments Planned for Historic Building that Tells the Story of a Neighborhood875 Michigan Ave., photo by Brent Warren.
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A plan to convert a historic building in Harrison West to residential use and to build new apartments behind it is moving forward.

Together, the two buildings will bring a total of 55 apartment units to 875 Michigan Ave., the former headquarters of the International Derrick and Equipment Company (later known as IDECO).

Built in 1927, the three-story brick building held the company’s offices and drafting facility. A large swath of the surrounding land was also controlled by IDECO, which it utilized for the production of its structural steel products.

After IDECO moved out of the building (probably around 1968), it sat empty for over 20 years before being bought by the Bunn-Minnick Pipe Organ Company, which used it as its offices and production facility for the next quarter century.

Robert Bunn, co-founder of Bunn-Minnick, along with his partner, Phil Minnick, said that the building was in pretty bad shape when they acquired it.

“Anything of value was stolen out of the building, even the wiring had been pulled out of the conduits…there were weeds six feet high,” he said. “It was the eyesore of the neighborhood…we put in 135 new windows, new plumbing, new wiring.”

(Disclosure/fun fact: 875 Michigan Ave. was the site of my first job; I worked for Bunn-Minnick during summers and school breaks in the 1990s.)

After years of driving by the building and wishing someone would do something with it, and with their growing company in need of more space, Bunn and Minnick decided to buy the building.

It wasn’t their first time taking on a significant renovation project in the neighborhood. In 1976, the couple bought a building at the northwest corner of West First and Harrison avenues, borrowing money from Minnick’s grandmother, since banks at the time considered the neighborhood too risky for loans.

They moved their pipe organ business out of Bunn’s basement and into that building, and the company continued to expand into what eventually became a collection of several renovated buildings at the intersection of First and Harrison.

The neighborhood changed dramatically in those years. Lots of homes and small commercial buildings were renovated, and a place that was once full of deteriorating housing stock butted up against large industrial uses was transformed into a high-rent, mostly residential district.

After IDECO left the 875 Michigan building, Bunn said that local kids – some of them a part of a group called the Third and Michigan Gang – stole bricks from the site, taking them several blocks east to Victorian Village to sell for use in backyard patios being put in by the new wave of homeowners who were renovating old mansions along Neil Avenue.

The former AC Humko plant, which for over a hundred years occupied about 13 acres in the neighborhood (between Oregon Avenue and the Olentangy River), was torn down in 2003 and turned into the Harrison Park development. Much of the formerly industrial land around 875 Michigan has also been developed since then, mostly with new apartment buildings.

“When we did (875 Michigan), the whole area started to turn around, and the same thing happened at First and Harrison; the neighborhood changed all around it,” said Bunn.

Bunn and two other partners in the business made the hard decision to sell 875 Michigan after the passing of Phil Minnick in late 2016.

Local developer Kevin Lykens, of the Lykens Companies, bought the building in 2018 and leased it to the Inspire Elementary charter school. The school made some modifications to the building and occupied it for about two years, but closed in 2020.

The new plan for the site calls for renovating the existing building to accommodate 27 apartments, while a new, 28-unit building will be constructed behind it. The new building will be three stories tall and contain a parking garage (a total of 61 spaces will be provide for both buildings).

Zoning variances for the project were approved by the Development Commission after the Harrison West Society signed off on the plans, and City Council is scheduled to vote on the variances later this month.

Although the project will likely take some time to complete, within the next few years residents could be moving into the building for the first time in its 94-year history, marking the latest transition for a building – and a neighborhood – that has seen many.

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