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Columbus, Ohio USA

Condos springing up in the Short North
The perfect urban lifestyle

March 2005
By Cindy Bent Findlay

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Photos by Gus Brunsman III

The 160-unit Victorian Gate is converting rentals to owned units.

Wake up in your master bedroom suite overlooking Goodale Park, walk across the street for your daily cup of Joe and then ride a bike or even amble downtown to your job or to the North Market for your dinner groceries – sounds like the perfect urban lifestyle.

For an increasing number of young singles, empty nesters and others, living along High Street in the heart of the Short North is becoming a reality.
“I’ve been looking for something downtown for five years. I wanted to step out my front door, walk and get somewhere. I have the best location in Columbus now,” says Bruce Henke, an attorney with downtown law firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease.

Henke is referring to his new 1400-square-foot condo at Parkview, a Long & Wilcox project overlooking Goodale Park at the corner of Park and Poplar.

Seldom having to get the car out, a parking spot in an underground private garage when one does drive, being a “regular” at the best of the city’s restaurants, Christmas shopping without traffic ... that kind of urban lifestyle is exactly what Henke was searching for – and found at Parkview.

Local developers are betting he’s not the only one looking for his own little piece of the Short North.

Parkview is just one among many condo projects sprouting along High Street and in surrounding blocks. Some 107 new condominium units ranging from entry-level to luxury pricing plus 64 new rental units will bring a significant amount of foot traffic to the neighborhood over the next few years.

Construction is underway from north to south, with new buildings going up and old ones being renovated into new living space.

The 160-unit Victorian Gate is “going condo,” converting rentals to owned units. Lahoti Properties is working on various projects that will add up to 79 new condo units by some time in the next two years. And the former Functional Furnishings building is being redeveloped by Plaza Properties into new retail on the ground floor and 14- 450-square-foot condos on the second and third.

The Wood Companies is adding its own retail and condo developments expanding further north along High Street, though mainly concentrating on retail development in the buildings, at least at first.

That’s not even including the massive new projects underway on the eastern and western boundaries of the neighborhood – the new Harrison Park in Harrison West and the long-awaited Jeffrey Place in Italian Village.

Harrison Park promises to bring more than 250 condo and rental units to the table; Jeffery Place, the 1,000-pound gorilla of local development, almost 500 new apartments and condos. Both also feature more than 100 single-family homes between them.

The Short North living space boom is just one part of an effort across the city to bring more residents to the downtown core, says Marc Conte, director of research and information for the Downtown Development Resource Center, a government agency tied closely to city government.

Conte says the city commissioned a study several years ago to test the waters and find out what kind of demand there might be for housing in the downtown core and surrounding neighborhoods.

The study concluded there would be demand enough to support 10,000 new housing units in the city over the next ten years. That study spurred Mayor Coleman to create a goal of attracting 1,000 new units per year, both rental and condos, for the time period spanning 2002-2012.

After two years, says Conte, the city is a bit behind the goal – with 1,000 new units opening their doors. But, he says, the pace is picking up.

“One interesting thing is, we have seen a lot more condos versus rental units than we would have expected, partly due to low interest rates, and part due to the maturation of the housing market,” says Conte.

Anecdotally, at least, that demand has been reflected in steady sales.

“Of the major new condo projects, they’re almost completely sold out by the time they open, or selling fast enough to be shown that this is a strong market for new condos,” Conte says.

Parkview, a Long & Wilcox project overlooking Goodale Park
at the corner of Park and Poplar.

Long & Wilcox, for instance, sold several Parkview condos before they even went on the market, including Henke’s.

“I ran into Bob Long at a shop in Upper Arlington,” says Henke, “and he was talking about a development they had on the drawing board. I said, ‘If you had a condo development on Goodale Park, I’d be right there.’ He said, ‘As a matter of fact, we do,’ and I said, ‘Where do I sign?’”

The Parkview building has been on the market since March 2003. Of 28 units in the building, 21 are spoken for – including some of the poshest, all four penthouse units, some of which sold for $750,000.

Freshwater Properties has had a similar experience with Goodale Park Place Condominiums, seven units on Buttles ranging in price from just under $800,000 to $350,000.

Construction on the “Carriage House” condos, which are part of the development, was scheduled for completion at the beginning of this month, but only two of the $350,000 units were still available as of late February.

“Just in the last couple of years, the condo market has really changed dramatically, it’s become a very very strong market. The minute you break ground and you put a sign up there, the phone starts ringing, especially when you’re on the park,” says Ken Wightman, a Freshwater Properties partner and also an area real estate agent.

“I think that what has been surprising is the number of couples happily living in their Upper Arlington or Dublin home, their kids have left, and they say ‘hey, we’re ready for a change of pace, let’s sell and move downtown.’ People who have, just love it, love the energy and feel, it’s definitely not boring suburbia,” says Laura Gardner, director of marketing for Long & Wilcox.

Ray Brown of Lahoti Properties says their experience has been similar. The company began marketing 20 units near nightclub Axis in March 2004, at Hubbard and High, and Brown says they sold very quickly.

“We’re finding that there is a big market for lower priced housing under $200,000, and then very expensive condos over $400,000, while the ones in the middle tend to be a little harder to sell,” says Brown.

The lower end, he says, is an untapped market, as many who are already renting in the neighborhood and elsewhere find that for the same price as a rental unit they can own their own homes.

Most of the condo units (and many of the rentals as well) have an upscale flavor, featuring cutting-edge amenities competitive with any luxury homes in the area.

Granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, trendy open floor plans, wood floors and even fireplaces and balconies are par for the course. Most also have a contemporary flavor, as developers find that most buyers seeking an urban lifestyle also desire a modern look.

Developers are well aware that they have to sidestep the parking problem so at least one parking spot, often indoors, is a standard offering.

Another twist on that theme are renovated properties with historic flare, such as the Victorian-style Goodale Park Condominiums, 13 one- to three-bedroom condos at 34-60 Buttles Ave. under development by Peter Avradopoulos.

His units, starting at just under $160,000, will feature not only hardwood floors and gorgeous original fireplaces but also the architectural detailing that served as a model for nearby Victorian Gate.

More people in the neighborhood can only be good, says Mark Wood of the Wood Companies.

“I think we’re seeing more retail space come on the market now also than we’ve had in the past, so we really have space now to accomodate both the businesses that support the neighborhoods but will also continue be a destination for art, specialty shops, home furnishings – those sorts of things,” says Wood.

In fact, neighborhood improvement, along with market demand, is a key reason some landowners are tackling the condo as a project.

Avradopoulos, for instance, purchased the row of old Victorian style rooming houses at 34-60 Buttles – reportedly home to many drug-related activities – and began converting them in part to create a safer neighborhood for his retail clients.

Avradopoulos, who owns several retail properties along High Street, says pride in ownership throughout the neighborhood should substantially cut down on area crime rates as the neighborhood matures.

Henke, for one, says that so far, he’s tickled to be a regular at downtown businesses like Cup O’ Joe for his morning coffee. An urban lifestyle, he’s finding, doesn’t mean an isolated one.

“I think there is in a way a sense of neighborhood sometimes lacking in the suburbs,” he says. “It’s really nice.”

© 2005 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.