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The Whitney Condos Break Ground This Summer

Walker Evans Walker Evans
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It’s been four years in the making, but The Whitney condo development at the corner of Hamilton Avenue and Mt. Vernon Avenue in the King Lincoln District is about to start construction later this summer. Their new sales office is also opening soon in the Gateway Building directly across the street from the Lincoln Theatre. We sat down with Tony Hutchins to catch up on the project and get an overview of what they’re going to be building over the course of the next year.

Walker: Hi Tony! Thanks for taking the time today to share some information with us. Can you first tell us a bit about the history of the project?

Tony: Sure. There was an apartment complex previously in that location that became problematic. Some of it had become vacant, and some of the problems dealt with crime and drug issues, so the city went through the steps to take it down. They then did an RFQ/RFP process to find a new developer for the site.

The Whitney-Young Collaborative is an organization that is a local graduate chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. The development corps of Shiloh and Trinity are involved in the project, and Second Baptist development corp is an ex officio member.

So, Second Baptist, Trinity and Shiloh own about 60 parcels in the neighborhood, but they’ve had problems, as have a lot of non-profits, in putting together a total development team. So we looked at this as an opportunity to collaborate and bring in the collective knowledge of these various entities. Working on this particular project is helping to build these relationships, so that after we’ve got this one project completed, we can easily move on to some of those other sites.

Walker: Just to clarify, these are all sites within the King Lincoln neighborhood?

Tony: Yes, within the district. They are scattered around, some are single-unit parcels, and some are very narrow sites that might not be buildable under today’s code. Second Baptist owns almost a whole block on 17th Street, so that should be very compatible for whatever they might want to do over there.

So what we’re saying is that we’ll respond to the city’s desire to build these projects to the specs that they put out and the high standards that they have with fitting into the neighborhood.

I’ve done non-profit work for about 24 years, and I came on board with this project after the RFQ/RFP process. They asked me if I could sort of quarterback this project. Seeing that we were so invested in the community, and based on the quality that both the city and the community wanted, I didn’t have a problem putting my name on it.

So that’s been the process so far, and that all started about four years ago.

Walker: Yeah, I recall reading a Dispatch article about the project from a year and a half ago, so I assumed that the project fell into hiatus after awhile.

Tony: Well, it’s interesting working with government. We did a lot of pre-development, we went back and forth trying to get a design that was going to work, and a good footprint that would fit the site. It took us about a year or so to get all of those pieces laid out. We brought on a general contractor, an architect, and an engineer, and then after that first year we started putting our financing together and developing the actual building plan. Since it was a pre-existing site we also had to do the core samples and environmental review. So we’ve always had work going on.

As the process moved along, we started putting together all of the funding, which had to be done creatively to put it mildly, to be able to pull this thing off with the affordable price points that we wanted to hit.

We did have some issues trying to figure out how to finalize our design with the city, because along the way we discovered some infrastructure problems that required some design modifications. The city stepped up and said they’d take care of one of the major infrastructure issues, which is the water pressure. We can’t get a building permit until we make sure we have water service sufficient for fire suppression as well as basic service. So that’s been somewhat of a delay.

And then for a period of time we had to scramble because our term sheets were issued before the banking crisis last year. One of our prospective partners got cold feet, so we had to go out and find additional funding to substitute with. We did that, and closed on our main construction loan in December. And now last week the city announced the bid for the water improvements. Once that starts we’re eligible for a building permit, and then we should be under construction.

Hopefully in the next 30 to 45 days you’ll see the water construction work. I think It’s a 30-day bid process, and then a 30-day review and award process . You should see activity on the water lines in the first part of August.

Walker: That was actually my next question; what sort of ground-breaking timeline you were shooting for.

Tony: Well, you know, working with churches and non-profits for 20-some years, I don’t do ground-breakings… I do ribbon-cuttings. Because you never know what you’re going to run into. Especially when you’re talking about building in an urban area.

Walker: Oh, I wasn’t really talking about a ground breaking ceremony, just curious as to when we’d see the actual construction starting.

Tony: Well, until we get all of our plans written off, we can’t start the construction. We don’t know exactly where the water lines will go. And like I said, that’s a process that’s just recently been completed. So once the city comes back to us, our engineer has to modify our plans and make sure everything is updated to match the water line design work.

But that’s all to the point where I can pretty safely say that we’re about ready to go. And it’s around a 10 to 15 month construction schedule. What we plan to do is build out all of the site and shells in one phase, and then build out the interiors as they’re sold.  We’ll start with the smaller units facing Downtown along Hamilton, and then move to the larger units as it appears that’s where we have the most interest right now. Then we’ll circle around to the units along Mt. Vernon and Martin Luther King.

We’re still looking at 28 units total. Still looking at price points, with subsidies, starting at $159k and going up to around $259k. All units have upgrade packages as well. We designed our standard build-out to be a fairly high end product… quality baseboards, Peerless faucets, brick exteriors, ceramic tile, choice of three types of all-wooden cabinets… so I think it will be a product that will be attractive.

Walker: Are there any kinds of target demographics that you’re going after? Young professionals, retiring baby boomers, first time home buyers, empty nesters?

Tony: I think our main demographic are folks who can close on a loan. Hahaha!

Walker: Ha! So a nice mix of residents then?

Tony: Well, the reality is that it is a neighborhood that offers certain types of assistance and buyer subsidies. The project is 15-year tax abated. Buyers will be eligible for down payment assistance and first time buyer’s assistance. So I think in that way it will be very competitive with what is being offered in other parts of Columbus.

Walker: Is it safe to assume that the new sales office will be able to provide potential buyers with more information on these types of assistance programs?

Tony: Yes, our lead Realtor is Theresa Bland with Bland Realty and she will be doing meetings by appointment.

Walker: Can you tell us a little more about the various units and designs that make up the development?

For the Legacy I and Legacy II units we sort of took some of the feedback of some of our potential female buyers, young professionals and single moms. Those units have a 1-car attached garage and they can buy a second or third detached garage if they need the extra space. The larger units have two-car detached but also have a small outdoor grass area.

So you’ve got three basic floorplans to choose from, the Legacy I, Legacy II and Jewel, and within that, I don’t think there are more than 3 or 4 floorplans that are entirely the same.

The square footage ranges from around 1300 sqft up to nearly 1900 sqft, but we can’t include the lower level as livable square footage…

Walker: So the lower level is a basement space?

Tony: Well, it’s actually about 6 feet above grade, so they do have lower-level windows and natural lighting, and by code you can put sleeping quarters down there. There will be full-length basements in the Jewel, and the Legacy I and II will have slightly smaller basements due to the attached 1-car garage taking out some of the room to do them the full length of the home.

We’ll also have two banks of garages that you can buy, first-come first-served. So like I said, if you’ve got a one-car attached garage and want a second garage, you can buy one right behind your unit. Or even if you want to use it as a storage bay, the option is there.

I think that design-wise it will be very attractive. Our primary pull will be with folks who have an appetite for the Downtown area, and we think this will be a big push for the King Lincoln District. It should help bring some of the other housing options up in this neighborhood.

Walker: It’s great to have a mix of both older historic homes and quality new construction in this neighborhood. Other than this project, there currently isn’t a whole lot of available new construction to choose from.

That’s not very uncommon in urban areas. There’s just not a lot of dirt for new construction. One of the reasons this project was so attractive to us is that we could fit 28 units comfortably on one site, and that then gives us the synergy and attention that it takes make those single-unit sites in the neighborhood more attractive to build on. It gives us the ability to come up with better comps so that this works as a for-profit model and not just as a not-for-profit model. It helps to make some of the housing that needs to be improved become more attractive for redevelopment, and also makes some of the housing that, quite frankly, needs to be demolished to make way for other projects become more attractive.

We think it will be a good piece for the neighborhood.

Walker: The Whitney is in a great location right across the street from Mayme Moore Park and the King Arts Complex, which are great neighborhood amenities to have. But on the other side of the development site there are some properties that look a bit less than desirable. Do you own any of the other adjacent properties, or is the hope that someone else will redevelop them?

The church owns a couple of the properties on Hamilton, and we’ve been in discussion with some of the property owners on Mt. Vernon. And again, we think that once these go up it will bring attention to the area for potential buyers new buyers, code enforcement, and should also help to encourage absentee landlords to upgrade their properties. Shiloh owns several units on Hamilton, and we’ve talked to them about development, but it’s a matter of convincing both their development corps as well as their church membership that there’s a project there that’s viable. We’ve talked to them about maybe doing some senior housing in place of some of their less-than-desirable property on the west side of Hamilton.

And then on the north side of Mt. Vernon there are three property owners, and Shiloh has one parcel there as well. So once we get this moving, I think folks will be able to see the potential and we’ll have more buy-in. I think that if we can take care of about 50% of the less-than-desirable properties then it will really push along some of the other ones. And that will also allow the folks who are holding out for the big return to sell later on and make a little more money.

All we want to do is see the neighborhood improve. We think that being on the edge of an emerging area is a lot safer and a more beneficial business model than some of the more adventurous stuff that CHP and some other groups have been able to do over here.

So yeah, we understand there are some challenges, but on the other side, like you said, we have the Urban League, King Arts Complex, a wonderful park that people sometimes drive right by without fully appreciating until the summer jazz series comes along. And we’re a fairly stable area. You’ve got the Elijah Pierce homes that are nice, a lot of great homes along Hamilton Park that have been very nicely rehabbed, and a lot of property between Long and Broad that have been improved in the last 4 or 5 years.

Overall, we’re excited about the development. The reality with urban development is that it’s a tortoise and hare game. We’re moving forward, not as expeditiously as we had liked or anticipated, but we’ve always been able to make steps forward. But now it’s to the point where we can be under construction this summer, and then next summer be looking at new residents moving into the community.

Walker: We certainly look forward to watching the progress. Thanks again for taking the time to bring us up to speed today.

Tony: No problem.

More information can be found online at TheWhitney-Condos.com.

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