NEWS

A Waterfront Revival in Columbus, Ohio

December 2nd, 2008
Keith Schneider, The New York Times

COLUMBUS, Ohio—A decade ago, a 75-acre area along the Scioto River less than a mile west of this capital city’s downtown was an industrial no man’s land, consisting of barren rail yards, old warehouses and a shuttered 19th-century penitentiary. But that was before Nationwide Realty Investors, an affiliate of Nationwide Mutual Insurance, turned the area into the Arena District.

The district, a $750 million mixed-use neighborhood of housing, offices, retailing and entertainment, has attracted some of the city’s most prominent architecture, law, real estate development and advertising firms and is regarded as one of the Midwest’s most successful urban redevelopment projects.

Late in October, the Columbus City Council approved the development plan for the Arena District’s final phase: a $250 million project to add 450 units of housing, 300,000 square feet of office space in two buildings, an 80,000-square-foot grocery store, an eight-level garage with 1,600 spaces and as much as 40,000 square feet of retail space.

As for the financial crisis that has gripped the credit markets, Brian J. Ellis, the president and chief operating officer of Nationwide Realty Investors, noted that in the 11-year history of the Arena District’s development, the company had contended with what he called “down cycles.” Though the current crisis is more severe than the others, Mr. Ellis said, the company’s strategy is to “build with the market.”

“What’s happening now may affect the speed at which we complete this final phase,” he said in an interview. “But we continue to see strong demand for the office space and housing. We continue to command the highest rental rates in the city.”

Indeed, at annual leasing prices of roughly $25 a square foot—compared with about $20 downtown—97 percent of the 1.4 million square feet of office space is occupied in the Arena District’s three-and four-story brick buildings.

Their design pays homage to the old warehouses and factories that once stood here. They now house some 5,000 workers, including more than 100 employees of SBC Advertising, a top Midwest firm, which leased 30,000 square feet at 333 West Nationwide Boulevard, the district’s newest office building.

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