New owners plan upgrades to West Side retail centers

on Tuesday, 12 May 2015.

The city's efforts to revitalize the West Side have attracted new owners for two retail properties -- the Great Western Commerce Center and the Great Western Shopping Center, both in the West Broad Street and Wilson Road area.

RD Management of New York purchased the commerce center for $7.1 million in 2013 and is the midst of a $2 million renovation project aimed at attracting a more diverse mix of tenants.

America's Realty, a Maryland-based company that specializes in turning around distressed malls, recently partnered with ARCJ Capital to buy the struggling shopping center for $4 million from Spigel Properties.

America's Realty CEO Carl Verstandig is clear about his company's mission: Find enough tenants to move the shopping center's occupancy rate from its current 72 percent to 90 percent in six to eight months. And he's not going for glitz and glamour.

"We don't have any real upscale shopping centers. We're middle-of-the-road," Verstandig said. "You're not going to find any Nordstroms in our centers.

"What we do is clean them up and undercut the rent and fill them up."

The owner of the nearby Great Western Commerce Center -- which was part of the Great Western Shopping Center when it opened in 1955 -- believes the purchase by America's Realty is a good sign for the West Side.

"People see the potential here and when that happens, you see properties trading hands," said Richard Birdoff, a principal at RD Management.

"They are looking for assets they can reposition, and that shopping center is in a location where it's capable of doing better than it's doing."

He believes the area around the Great Western is in the early stages of a turnaround and said RD Management is looking at other properties in the area to purchase and turn into similar mixed-use centers.

"Any time you have urban areas that have gone through some abandonment and neglect, you need some pioneers and some governmental input for a rebirth," he said. "I'm impressed with what Columbus has done Downtown and the river projects and the plans for Franklinton -- and (efforts) to extend that to the west."

Birdoff's plans to rebrand and upgrade the Great Western Commerce Center put it at the forefront of the mixed-use trend, according to Chris Boring, a principal of Boulevard Strategies, a local retail-consulting firm.

"I think they're ahead of the curve, and this mixed-use idea will be a huge trend in the next 20 years because there are so many dying malls," Boring said.

The strategy for the commerce center fits in with the area's master plan, said Chris Haydocy, president of Weston Vision, the West Side's economic-development organization.

"They're following the blueprint," he said. "Retail is gone here and instead of putting a square peg in a round hole, which has been tried unsuccessfully, they're putting a round peg in a round hole."

The popularity of online shopping has created "more retail space than we'll ever need in central Ohio," Boring said, adding that this will increase the need to find nonretail types of tenants for all the empty spaces.

The Great Western Commerce Center has one 50,000-square-foot vacancy and several smaller ones that range in size from 960 square feet to 2,700 square feet.

"We're talking to possible tenants for the 50,000-square-foot site," Birdoff said. "One is in the entertainment area, and the other is in education."

Face-lift coming for Great Western Commerce Center

on Thursday, 26 February 2015.

Owners set hopes on mix of tenants that goes far beyond retail

New owners are spending more than $2 million to breathe new life into the Great Western Commerce Center, renovating the center in an effort to attract a more diverse mix of tenants.

RD Management of New York purchased the center in 2013 for $7.1 million.

“We’re basically rebranding it and upgrading it to attract more tenants,” said Richard Birdoff, a principal at RD Management. “ And not solely retail tenants. We’re looking for a more mixed-use complex.”

Great Western’s roster already offers variety, including the Franklin County Opportunity Center — a neighborhood service center operated by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services — as well as the Great Western Academy charter school. Two staffing offices also call the commerce center home, along with retailers Restaurant Depot and Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore.

The center’s former anchor, a Kroger supermarket, has been closed for several years.

“This has been a positive when you consider where this (center) was clearly in decline five or seven years ago,” said E.J. Thomas, CEO of Habitat for Humanity-MidOhio. “(Birdoff) and his team were willing to put their dollars on the table and take a swing.”

Tax plan might reawaken Westland Mall

on Wednesday, 18 February 2015.

a joint economic-development district

A push is underway for a tax that could spur the long-awaited redevelopment of Westland Mall, a tax the owners of the struggling mall would welcome.

“We are excited about it; it sounds like an excellent funding source,” said Nick Vollman, a vice president for Plaza Properties, which owns much of the 70-acre, mostly vacant mall.

The tax plan — a joint economic-development district — is being promoted by Franklin Township to pay for public improvements that spur economic development.

Vollman said Plaza Properties would like to see a public street running from W. Broad Street through the mall to link with the entrance to Hollywood Casino across Georgesville Road. The mall has frontage on the two busy streets, but the increased traffic through its interior could attract more shoppers and businesses, he said.

The district’s focal point would be the Broad and Georgesville intersection. The township would need the support of 51 percent of business owners and 51 percent of property owners.

Editorial in The Columbus Dispatch November 8 2014

on Saturday, 08 November 2014.

Kudos to the Columbus City Council

Kudos to the Columbus City Council for seeing the benefit of finishing the last piece of the Camp Chase Trail on the West Side for bicyclists, walkers and runners.

On Monday night, council member...s unanimously voted to spend $4.2 million to build the final 2.9 miles of the 15-mile paved trail, to connect people to Downtown via Sullivant Avenue. Metro Parks simultaneously is building a portion that will continue the trail west from Sullivant to Darby Creek Metro Park.

This will complete an important section of a major cycling “highway,” the Ohio to Erie Trail, which spans the entire state, from the Ohio River in Cincinnati to Lake Erie in Cleveland, on land formerly owned by railroad and canal companies. Dispatch Reporter Steve Wartenberg, who writes the Best Bike Blog Ever, had a wonderful time biking the entire Ohio to Erie Trail in September, but he pointed out that once a cyclist traveling north reaches the outskirts of Columbus, he must ride on W. Broad Street for a few miles. As he blogged, it was “really busy. Scary busy. Too busy. Especially as you pedal by the on and off ramp for 270.”

Finishing this section and getting bikes and walkers off the main drag is just safer, plus it brings the state within striking distance of finishing the whole trail — a decades-long dream of cyclists. They envision that biking the Ohio to Erie Trail could become a bucket-list item for people, in the same way that running a marathon or hiking the Appalachian Trail is an aspirational goal.

Wartenberg’s travelogue also hinted at the economic potential of having a long-distance bike trail through the heart of Ohio: Loveland, northeast of Cincinnati, had restaurants along the trail that were full of cyclists. Cedarville opened a hotel right on the trail.

Columbus approves $4.2 million to link Camp Chase trail on West Side

on Tuesday, 04 November 2014.

To be complete in 2015

Columbus will spend $4.2 million to complete the final link of the Camp Chase Trail that will connect the West Side for bikers, runners and walkers to Downtown via Sullivant Avenue.

The City Council unanimously approved the contract with the Righter Company last night.

Righter, of Columbus, will build the final 2.9 miles of trail, which will stretch from Eureka Avenue to Sullivant Avenue. “This is an important piece of the trail,” said Jody Dzuranin, an avid bicyclist and advocate for new trails. “By this time next year, a portion of the trail might still be gravel but will be navigable.”

The path is part of a 15-mile trail that’s expected to be completed by late next year and will include two new bridges over Dry Run and South Fork Dry Run creeks.

Metro Parks have funded the other 12 miles of the path that stretches into Madison County. The park system  approved $2.9 million this year to build a 1-mile section of trail from Hall Road to Sullivant Avenue.

Pieces of the trail are still being constructed and should be finished some time in September 2015 by Righter, which has handled nearly all of the trail construction. Cost is about $11 million. Dzuranin said Metro Parks are trying to ensure that section of the trail is completed by the time the city’s portion is done, but weather and schedules might make that difficult.

The path runs along the Camp Chase Railroad — a key section in the 330-mile, Ohio-to-Erie Trail that will one day link Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati.

“The Camp Chase Rail Trail is an important link in the system and will bring cyclists through Columbus from across the state,” Mayor Michael B. Coleman said.

It also will be a link in the thousands of miles of bike trails across the country that eventually will connect San Francisco to Washington, D.C.

There currently are more than 90 miles of multipurpose paths in central Ohio.

City of Columbus to invest over 4 Million Dollars into bike trail

on Thursday, 30 October 2014.

Weston District to be crown jewel of 300 mile Ohio to Erie trail

Monday November 3 is the moment we have all been waiting for!  City Council will vote on funding the final segment of the Camp Chase Trail which also represents the final missing segment for  the entire Ohio to Erie Trail through Franklin C...ounty!   Thank you Councilman Councilmember Hearcel F. Craig, Columbus Recreation and Parks Director Alan McKnight and Greenways Manager Brad Westall for bringing this project into reality.  The friends are grateful and we ready to help care for this wonderful community asset.   The meeting begins at 5 pm at Columbus City Council Chambers in City Hall.

Area around Columbus casino shows signs of revival

on Wednesday, 03 September 2014.

Signs of revival adding up around casino on West Side; businesses open or renovate, and infrastructure improves

A symbol of the recent resurgence of the West Side, a forgotten, blighted area once deemed the emptiest neighborhood in America, can be found in something as simple as a pulled-pork sandwich.

"Here, let me take that picture for you,” Chris Haydocy said as he wiped BBQ sauce from his mouth and walked over to a Poughkeepsie, N.Y., couple about to take a selfie of themselves and their sandwiches, with Hollywood Casino Columbus in the background. 

They had traveled to Haydocy’s new Airstream and RV dealership to pick up their recreational vehicle, and they received a complimentary lunch at the dealer’s Land Yacht BBQ food truck, parked at Haydocy Buick and GM near the casino.

“What was the chance five years ago that anyone would want to have their picture taken anywhere on the West Side?” Haydocy said after he took the photo.

City plans bike trail hub for West Side

on Saturday, 23 August 2014.

“crown jewel” of a 330-mile bike trail

Chris Haydocy looks at the West Side and sees a future in which young people are buying houses and businesses and returning to long-shuttered vacant properties.

The catalyst for that resurgence, the auto dealer says, is what he hopes will be the “crown jewel” of a 330-mile bike trail between Cincinnati and Cleveland.

Planners the city hired are designing a hub that could be the center of activity on the Camp Chase Trail, a path that will connect the West Side to Downtown and link the Ohio-to-Erie trail through Columbus.

The hub will be built on an undeveloped 47-acre parkland the city acquired about 15 years ago on Wilson Road south of W. Broad Street.

It’s a vision that’s been three years in the making. Haydocy and his Weston Vision board released mockups of a station in 2011 to gather support.

“This can be a focal point for the city,” said Jody Dzuranin, a Consider Biking member.

Indoor go-kart track set for West Side

on Saturday, 09 August 2014.

Investment is a natural transformation from the past to the future

Speed demons with sufficient skill and nerve will soon be able to stomp the pedal of an electric go-kart and hit 40 mph in 4 seconds as they circle a track inside what was once a Kohl’s store and will soon be Buckeye Raceway.

Owner Rob Conrad is hard at work ripping up tiles and laying down a quarter-mile track inside the 135,000-square-foot building that had been vacant the past few years.

“It’s mostly just me, so it’s going a little slow,” he said.

If things go as planned, Buckeye Raceway will open in mid-October, he said. It will feature 19 Sodikart RTX electric karts, which Conrad considers a step up in terms of speed and technology from gas-powered karts.

“And the track will have twists and turns, and we’ll be able to change the configuration often,” he said. “That makes it more interesting for people.”

Conrad envisions competitions, leagues, corporate events, fundraisers, and birthday and graduation parties at Buckeye Raceway.

US Bike Route 50 to run through Weston District

on Monday, 28 July 2014.

West Side Trailhead could be center of Washington DC to San Francisco Route

A 313-mile route that stretches from Preble County on the Indiana border to Steubenville has been designated as U.S. Bicycle Rt. 50 by the Adventure Cycling Association and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

Ohio’s route traverses several road segments and portions of 14 trails, including parts of the Olentangy, Alum Creek and Camp Chase trails in Columbus. The full route can be viewed online at

When the route is finished, it will connect urban, suburban and rural areas between San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Similar routes were named in Massachusetts, Washington state, Illinois and Washington, D.C. The national bike-route designation is expected to draw experienced riders from across the country to Ohio, said Steve Faulkner, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation

Transportation Insider: New bike route will run across state. The first Ohio section of what will become the largest official bike network in the world has been approved.

West Side apartment complex undergoes renovation

on Monday, 28 July 2014.

Romney Group doing a complete top-to-bottom renovation, inside and outside

In the rental-home world, the word renovation can mean very different things. “Some companies buy an apartment complex, put in new light fixtures and say it’s renovated,” said Patrick Gray, property manager of the large Havenwood Townhome Community on the West Side. “We’re doing a complete top-to-bottom renovation, inside and outside,” he said of the work going on at the former Metro West complex, where 820 units are scheduled to be renovated by May 2016.

The Romney Group and other investors formed Havenwood and purchased the deteriorating Metro West located just west of Georgesville Road for $9 million in April, according to the Franklin County auditor’s office. The renovation and leasing of the complex is being done by Pierpont Management for Havenwood.

A Pierpont official declined to give the cost of the renovation.“Overall, it was in worse shape than we thought,” Gray said of the condition of the units. “Some had been vacant for 15 years.”The original plan was to renovate the existing 856 two-, three- and four-bedroom units.“The (36) four-bedroom units were in such bad shape, we had to tear them down,” Gray said, adding that they were filled with mold, broken windows and rotted drywall.

The two- and three-bedroom units will get new roofs, gutters and shutters and the exteriors will be painted. Inside, all the units are getting new tile floors in the kitchens and bathrooms, wood-laminate floors in the livings rooms and carpeting on the second floors. The kitchens will be updated with new refrigerators, stoves, cherry-wood cabinets and faux-granite countertops.

“We’ll buy about a million square feet of floor laminate,” Gray said. The entire property will be landscaped, including the addition of a 2.5-acre park.The renovation project began in May, and there are about 50 to 75 workers on site every day, Gray said.

The rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $735 a month, and a three-bedroom unit is going for $855 a month. This is about $75 more than the previous monthly rate. The 820 units are currently about 45 percent occupied.Employees at the nearby Hollywood Casino Columbus will get a discount: $720 for a two-bedroom unit and $840 for a three-bedroom unit. “The first round of renovated units will be done in early August, and all 15 are already pre-leased,” Gray said. “After that, we’ll be finishing 10 to 15 a week.” @stevewartenberg

Hollywood Casino Columbus

on Friday, 20 June 2014.

Corporate Caring 2014

The Greater Hilltop Area Shalom Zone is a nonprofit organization that focuses on organizing the resources of the west side to help residents.

It was clear early in the development of Hollywood Casino Columbus that its leadership wanted to be an asset to its neighbors, said Eugene Brundige, acting executive director of Shalom Zone.

“They are investing in the west side…in jobs and in charitable investments,” he said. “They offered to be a partner with the Shalom Zone, asking nothing in return.”

Hollywood leaders saw an opportunity to make a difference in the neighborhood, said Kamilah Prince, director of community relations for the casino. They appreciate that Shalom Zone brings together more than a dozen local organizations.

Westgate Park’s pond to undergo renovation

on Tuesday, 10 June 2014.

The Columbus City Council plans to spend up to $560,000 to renovate the pond

A popular fishing hole near the Hilltop on the city’s West Side is about to get a major renovation after years of complaints from neighbors about the smell and look of the water.

The pond in Westgate Park — what locals call Harder Lake — will be closed next month after the neighborhood’s popular Bean Dinner, to allow for up to $560,000 in renovations.

The Columbus City Council approved the project unanimously last night.

“We are going to rebuild the whole thing,” said Alan McKnight, director of the Department of Recreation and Parks. “We are going to replace the concrete decking and the concrete block walls, and it will look much nicer.”

Metro Parks ready to build next chunk of Camp Chase trail

on Wednesday, 14 May 2014.

Bridge over the freeway will be a little longer than a football field

Metro Parks is to spend $2.9 million for the next link of the Camp Chase multiuse trail — a 1-mile section between Hall Road and Sullivant Avenue that crosses over I-270.

The Metro Parks board awarded the contract to the Righter Co. yesterday.

The park district received $1.98 million from the federal government for the project, including $135,000 that was spent last year to put in a bridge pier. The bridge over the freeway will be a little longer than a football field.

The park board also approved spending an additional $289,951 with H.R. Gray for construction administration and inspection.

The work is expected to begin by the end of June and be completed by the end of the year, said Steve Brown, chief landscape architect for Metro Parks.

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