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The Jackson Heads Skyward This Summer

Walker Evans Walker Evans
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The Jackson condo development in the Short North was announced just over three years ago, and for most skyline-watchers and urbanistas, those three years can feel like an eternity. The building is quickly taking shape now that construction has started and many are excited to watch the progress on a more daily basis. We recently sat down with Brad Howe, a partner with Jackson Developer JBH Holdings, to discuss some of the finer details of this new iconic building in the Short North.

Walker Evans: For anyone who hasn’t been following the progress, can you give us a little bit of an overview of the project… how it all got started, and what led us up to the start of construction?

Brad Howe: Sure. JBH Holdings is our holding company that is the developer for the Jackson. We have some other things that we are working on with the Jackson being the biggest and most important project where a lot of our time is currently being spent.

The Jackson is an important project for the neighborhood for a number of different reasons. First and foremost, because the Victorian Village Commission went out on such a limb for us. When we first went in to get our grant to try to get a design approved for the site, we were hoping for a five story building. The Dakota was a five story building and that kind of set the precedent for the neighborhood. The rule of thumb used to be that you wanted the surrounding buildings to be no more than a story or story and a half taller than each other so the neighborhood flows. That’s what we were hoping for, and that was our goal. But after the second commission meeting, they said “let’s not worry about height”. I was a bit confused at first on where they were going with this. We had already bought the ground, and I started to wonder if they were not going to let us do anything at all. But then the commissioners agreed that they wanted to take the building higher, and make it taller. The idea was to create an exclamation point at the northern end of the Short North to help create more development on that end… to create an anchor.

So we went back and forth and had around thirteen meetings. We had rounds and rounds of very positive, friendly communication between us and the commission and we settled on the design you see right now, which is an eight-story tower. Well, it’s not really a traditional tower but in this neighborhood I think you can call it a tower.

WE: Yeah, you can see it from several blocks away.

BH: Exactly. The tower piece has got more of a contemporary element to it with the glass but the commission wanted it to step back off High Street so the mass wouldn’t feel so large. So when you are walking along the sidewalk you don’t want look up and see this big imposing tower right on top of you. So we stepped the tower back but then on the High Street side you have that continuity of the buildings being no more than a story or story and a half taller to fit in, and that way it’s got more the historical architecture that flows with the neighborhood.

So with the design, we needed the majority of votes from the commission to get it passed and we had all the votes except one. The one commission member that voted no said that they didn’t like the height but they loved the design. So that’s kind of a little background about how we got the building that we have going up right now.

WE: Can you tell us a little more about some of the actual units in the building, the price and size ranges, and what type of tenants you expect to purchase at The Jackson?

BH: We completed some in depth marketing studies before even approaching our architect. We looked at a number of different local projects from Burnham Square to Carlyle’s Watch. We studied everything built in Columbus in the past couple of years. We wanted to see what they’ve done well and what they didn’t do well, and what we found was that the smaller 600 sqft 1-bedroom 1-bath type of units were not selling very well. We knew we didn’t want to have much of that product in our building, so our smallest unit is 938 sqft with 1 bedroom, 1 1/2 baths and 10 ft ceiling heights. That’s penthouse ceiling heights on some other projects.

When the commission wanted us to stick to an eight story building, they didn’t care too much about ceiling height. So we decided to stretch the building. Our ground-floor retail space has 16 foot ceilings which gives you the illusion of more space. So already we have a good advantage with our ceiling heights and all that.

Our unit mix ranges from 938 to 2500 sqft. The price point ranges from $200,000 to a little over one million. We have nearly 30 different floor plans, and the end result is going to be a lot of unique features and something for everybody. When we did our marketing study we realized that the demographic is so broadly based that it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint one demographic and make them happy. So we figured since the Short North is about being inclusive to everybody, that’s kind of the mindset we should have for our project.

WE: I think a lot of people on Columbus Underground have shown an interest in the building, whether or not they plan on buying a unit, because of the retail component on the ground floor. It’s something that even if you don’t live in the building you are still going to benefit by having new restaurants, stores, and business within the area. Is it too early to say what kinds of tenants are going to be filling the retail space?

BH: My vision is to have a restaurant go in our 3600 square foot retail space and I’m going to be working with Continental on trying to find a tenant for that space. I’ve already had some early stage talks with a couple people, but that’s starting to heat up a little bit now that construction is under way.

Obviously, the retail is for the neighborhood first and foremost. But I think that the retail can also really complement the building. Meaning that if you are a tenant and are by the pool area and you don’t want to go to your room get a glass of wine or get a drink and a sandwich, then you can have the restaurant bring something up to you. I want everything to flow together so that if you live in the Jackson you can pull your car into the garage on a Friday and not have to take it out until Monday morning. You can go for a swim, lay out by the sun, get a work out, have somebody cater food to you and all of that.

So that’s kind of what our focus is right now in our search for retail tenants.

WE: That sounds very cool. Definitely a nice selling point.

BH: The retail as a percentage of the project is maybe 5 to 10 percent of our total assets. So, our main focus is on our residential component. But at the same time our retail is crucial to our building because that is what people see. That will be a destination place for some people. “Hey lets go to the Jackson to have a nice dinner”.

WE: You mentioned earlier that the Victorian Village Commission wants The Jackson to act as an anchor project for the neighborhood. Do you have any kind of predictions on what type of development we are going to see following?

BH: I think without a doubt you are going to see more residential development. The area down here has grown tremendously in the three and a half years I’ve been involved with the Jackson. It’s grown a lot and you see a lot of stuff in the planning stages right now.

But what I’m about to tell you now is probably the most important thing that we have in our corner on this development. When we bought the ground we bought it at a very fair price. So what that means is that we are not burdened from the start with having massive interest payments. We are not burdened with making bad decisions based upon timing that we’ve got to rush to do something. We are not burdened with a lot of upfront debt.

I think that’s a serious issue that people face in development all the time. We started off on the right foot and when you are not burdened with those things, that gives you the opportunity to do some additional special things, to add stuff back into the project. We were able to close on our loan before the financial crisis hurt a lot of good people. That’s positive that we’re fully funded. Our bank is in full support, they love our project and they love the team involved. When your bank is on board good things can happen.

In an environment where a lot of negative things are happening, we are on schedule and we are going to meet our timeline. We are under-budget. We have had a lot of success with our soil testing. You look for these type of small victories as you go, because in the end when you really keep score is when the product is ready.

WE: You’ve got a lot of the features on display here in the show room. Are there regular hours here for people to stop in?

BH: You will see the “open” signs up from time to time when we are down here, but we are appointment only right now. If anyone would like to stop in, you can call our Realtor Mike Casey at 614-256-2545.

WE: On the Jackson website it is mentioned that some of your standard unit finishes are what other developments would consider as upgrades. Can you tell us a bit more about some of those features?

BH: Sure. As I was just talking about, having won a lot of small victories within our business plan, we’re now starting to add more value back into the project. I think it makes a big difference because homebuyers are studying like crazy right now. If they are looking to buy they know exactly what these different projects are offering. And if they compare us to other projects I have no doubt that they will be excited by what they see or what they get with our standard package and our list price. We could have easily not told anyone about these small victories and pocketed that additional profit. But instead we’re adding things. We’re banking that ten years down the road our development company can say “Hey these guys are not just about making a profit, they are about having a project that is high quality”. That’s our attitude and that’s our mindset and I hope people can recognize that as we go.

WE: On a similar note, I read a few weeks ago where someone on Columbus Underground voiced a concern about the noise issue with the location being right next door to Skully’s Music Diner. I saw that you had logged in and posted a response about the sound barrier wall that’s being constructed to help cancel out some of the noise. I think it goes a long way to show that some of these issues are being treated with a lot of care.

BH: This is why I like interacting on Columbus Underground. We like to get good feedback. We’re not afraid to go out and talk about some of the positives and negatives because we’ve still got a chance to correct them.

The Skully’s issue could be a negative if we don’t address it. A potential negative for Jackson with the noise issue, but it could also be negative for Skully’s because of potential noise ordinance complaints from our residents. But I think that we both can survive at a high level and I think we need to work together to figure out the best way to do that. I’ve approached Skully a couple of times, and I am still keeping my fingers crossed that he will work with me on some of this. I’m even willing to help do some things to his building, like giving him some money to help improve his sound-proofing. I like his place, but at the end of the day, I can’t force him to work with me on these issues. We only can control what we can control. It is in our purchase contracts though, so that our residents know what kind of establishment he has next door before they buy. As you mentioned, we are taking steps with our higher retaining wall that should  help deflect some of the noise. That will be a huge asset for us. We are also working with noise consultants to do additional things to our building. We know it can be a great environment for both of us.

WE: Personally, I think that having a bit of noise and energy and excitement in your neighborhood is a positive selling point. The Short North is an urban neighborhood, and High Street is a very busy street. I don’t think that anyone would honestly be interested in the space if they thought that they were getting some sort of country-side quietness out of their environment.

BH: That’s right. We may lose a buyer because of Skully’s but we might gain a buyer because of Skully’s too.

WE: Are there any other types of concerns, positive or negative, that people are expressing to you about the project?

BH: There’s one other concern that is a bit of a minor issue, but I am working diligently to turn it into a “positive”. The schoolyard to the west of our building is now empty. I have been talking with the principals and the folks over there and the school that was there last year was just a temporary location.

WE: The Indianola School?

BH: Yes. It was a temporary location for them and now they are moving to their permanent location. So I found out that it is going to be vacant for a three year period. Because it is a city-owned property, you or I or anyone that lives in the city has public access to it. Collectively, we all own that ground and we all have to be responsible and take care of it. So what I am planning on doing is asking the city to let us maintain it for the first couple of years, get the grass to the point where it is full and maybe replace some fencing too. Right now when you look down on it it, it looks like a pretty beat-up schoolyard with a lot of bare spots. Not too attractive. It’s nearly two acres and I think that can benefit people outside the Jackson as well. Anyone that lives in this neighborhood can enjoy that space.

WE: So essentially you are maintaining it as park space.

BH: Yes. Better curb appeal and more green space for everybody to walk their dogs out there, play soccer, throw the ball around, whatever you want to do. It should be a space for everybody. So that’s one thing that we are working on fixing right now.

WE: Nice. It sounds like the Jackson will have a backyard then.

BH: Exactly. It could really be a neat feature. Like I said, everybody in the city owns it so everybody can go play on it. Goodale Park is crowded a lot of times, so let’s bring some of those people down here and enjoy this little space too.

WE: It is probably too early to say, but are there plans to do more development down the road? Either in the Short North or in other neighborhoods?

BH: Absolutely, but I think the development environment has changed a lot in the past few years. Right now the lending environment is forcing it to change. If we went for the same loan today, we wouldn’t be getting it… nobody is getting it right now. So, I do not see a lot more of these types of larger projects happening in the three-to-five year short term. It doesn’t help that many buyers are scared to death of certain pre-sales because some developers are taking things out of their projects. Look at the people in Miami who have put down their early money and now some of those projects have completely stopped. They’ve lost their money. That sort of thing can happen anywhere. I really don’t see it getting much better in the short term.

WE: But in the longer term you have your eyes set on more development?

BH: We are banking on doing multiple projects like this, hopefully in the Short North. I like the urban areas, I think it’s exciting and I think that is where the world is really going. I think people like to be around other people. I come from a small town in Southern Ohio where I grew up not around a bunch of people, but now that I’m up here in Columbus I really enjoy it a lot. It would be tough for me to move out into the suburbs. The suburbs are fine for a lot of people, but there are a lot of people that like to be closer to Downtown neighborhoods.

WE: I agree. It is a very exciting time to be closer to Downtown Columbus.

BH: When it is all said and done, the Jackson in 10 years will be in a perfect location. This is right in-between Grandview Yard, The Ohio State campus and the OSU hospital expansion. We are close to everything in the Short North and the Arena District. In terms of property values here, if you buy in with the Jackson, not only do you get what we have been talking about but you get an area that is still on the upswing. For potential buyers, you never know exactly where your property values are going, but you can base them on your hunches and the overall vision of the area. If you buy a unit here you can probably go to sleep at night knowing you didn’t buy at the peak.

WE: Brad, thanks again for taking the time to give us an update on the project. Looking forward to checking out the model units once the construction is finished.

BH: No problem. Thanks.

More information can be found online at JacksonOnHigh.com.

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