As people move back into the cities in search of housing, cities are providing more creative options.
Coleman Wood

In recent years, a push has been made to redevelop the urban centers of cities that have been abandoned to suburban sprawl. At the forefront of this movement is the development of residential housing for these newcomers. Midwestern cities are taking a fresh look at their urban core, and figuring out ways to make these areas appeal to residents seeking a new urban experience. While the reasons for redeveloping and the demographics targeted may vary, the common goal is to bring vibrancy and life back to the heart of the city.

In Columbus, Ohio, the city is seeking to address a specific problem by revitalizing the downtown area. Each year, some of the best and brightest graduate from the area’s many colleges, and each year many of these educated young professionals leave the state for jobs — by some estimates, as many as two-thirds.

With six Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the region, Columbus is not short on job opportunities, so the city has launched an initiative aiming to keep the homegrown talent the state produces from leaving for greener pastures.

“One of the things Columbus has that is a great asset is Ohio State University, and the mayor wants to be able to retain as many of those young people as possible,” says Rebecca Ryan, a consultant with Next Generation Consulting (NGC), the firm hired by Columbus to survey the region’s young professionals. “So they came to us and said, ‘Can you look at our community through the lens of a 25- to 34-year-old person and help us devise a strategy to better attract and retain them in the community?’”

Based on the research of Ryan and her colleagues, NGC recommended a three-pronged approach for the city. First, Ryan’s surveying found that roughly 23 percent of young people that had moved out of the city had thought about moving back, but the city lacked a place these people could go to for information about city life, such as housing and employment. So the city came up with a Web site,, as a place to find information on everything from housing in Columbus’ different neighborhoods to job postings and entertainment options.

Secondly, NGC discovered that 43 different organizations for young professionals exist in the city, yet these groups rarely worked together. Seeing this common goal, Mayor Michael Coleman established the Young Professionals Commission, which acts as an advisory group to the mayor and consists entirely of young people.

The final recommendation was that the city needed to build itself up, especially in the sector of workforce housing, if it were to thrive. There had been no significant downtown residential development in 10 years or more, and the city was in the beginning stages of a downtown revitalization. Ryan’s recommendations helped the city focus its efforts.

“I think one of the things that’s important about what Columbus has done, is that they’re trying to get ahead of this issue of attracting and retaining talent,” Ryan says.

“Early on, the idea of the project was to create a 24-hour downtown,” says Matt McCollister, vice president of economic development with the Columbus Chamber of Commerce. “We had a pretty good working population that would come in and go out of the city. But some of the initial catalyst for bringing housing downtown was the idea of insuring there are customers 24 hours a day.

“There were definitely some areas of downtown that were 24 hours already, and they did have amenities, but they were scattered throughout downtown — there wasn’t a concentration,” he adds. “So the idea was to bring in some people to do a little bit of infill [development].”

The city did its part by proposing a plan to add more downtown housing, especially affordable housing for young professionals, and encouraging both developers and residents to come to the area. One incentive is city-provided property tax abatements for downtown residences that are transferable to owners.

National Community Builders is developing the $400 million Jeffrey Place, the largest project in Columbus, Ohio. The community is being built on the brownfield site of the former Jeffrey Mining and Manufacturing Company, and will include 1,120 residences and approximately 150,000 square feet of additional commercial and retail space.

Many of the new residential projects in the city are actually redevelopments of existing properties. National Community Builders’ $400 million Jeffrey Place is Columbus’ largest development, and is located at the corner of Fourth Street and East First Avenue in the heart of Italian Village next to the vibrant Short North arts district. The project will be built on the brownfield site of the former Jeffrey Mining and Manufacturing Company. It will consist of 1,120 residences, including lofts, townhomes, condominiums and single-family homes, as well as more than 160,000 square feet of commercial office space and approximately 90,000 square feet retail space.

The master-planned development is being designed as a green community with 4 acres of park space and rooftop gardens, as well as geothermal heating and cooling systems in the units and the largest solar PV cell installation in the Midwest. The first phase of the development, the $16 million North Block 1, was completed in November, and consists of 72 loft and townhome condominiums and three retail spaces on the corners.

The Buggyworks is trying to target young professionals with its loft condominiums, which begin at $150,000.

The Buggyworks, located in the Arena District, is a new mixed-use development that includes both residential and commercial lofts, as well as retail space. The project consists of the redevelopment of the Columbus Buggy Company building, which when built in 1902, was the world’s largest manufacturer of horse-drawn carriages.

The space is now being renovated, along with many other Arena District sites, to create a vibrant entertainment district. The area already is home to the arena for the National Hockey League’s Columbus Blue Jackets, and will soon also house a new baseball stadium. The first phase of The Buggyworks, comprising 68 condominium lofts that range in price from $150,000 to $600,000, is currently being completed. The phase is already completely sold out, with sales exceeding $20 million for the lofts. Additional phases will expand the development with 300,000 additional square feet of mixed-use space, and include Firestone Alley, a pedestrian way consisting of 250,000 square feet of residential, retail and commercial lofts that leads through the development to downtown, Theatre Row, Riverfront Park, and the many entertainment and sports options of the Arena District.

One of the features of The Buggyworks will be Firestone Alley, a pedestrian way containing 250,000 square feet of residential, retail and commercial lofts, which will lead through the development to the downtown Columbus Arena District.

“There are almost 3,000 additional units that are scheduled to come online in the near future,” McCollister says. “So it’s not a small district project; it’s a massive downtown project that is bringing life to a number of different areas, as it relates to residential housing.”

Additional projects are also being completed to complement the increase in housing. The first phase of the redevelopment of The Lazarus Building is nearing completion, which should bring 500,000 square feet of commercial, educational and residential space to downtown when fully built out. The project is also vying for Gold-level LEED certification, and is currently the largest green building renovation in the nation. The city has also taken control of City Center Mall, which has suffered from increased vacancy in recent years due to newer suburban malls, and plans to redevelop the project into an open-air lifestyle center.

The new development is making a noticeable impact on the city. Since 2000, Columbus has seen $1.2 billion in private investment for downtown projects, and the city is in its 5th year of a 10-year plan to add 10,000 new units of housing to downtown.

“In a way, Columbus is in its adolescence now,” Ryan says, adding that in the coming years, the city will grow and mature as one of the Midwest’s premier cities.

In the Midwest’s premier city, officials are in the  midst of reshaping a large swath of Chicago’s residential real estate in an effort to revitalize distressed areas. The Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) is in the midst of dismantling its public housing program, and replacing government-owned public housing developments with privately owned, mixed-income communities. The CHA’s Plan for Transformation set a goal to build or rehabilitate approximately 25,000 units of public housing by 2009, making it the largest reconstruction of public housing in U.S. history. The CHA’s plan is part of the much larger HOPE VI program established by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to transform the image of public housing nationwide by lessening the concentration of poverty through the creation of mixed-income communities and the rehabilitation of severely distressed public housing.

Construction for the first phase of Roosevelt Square, which consists of 417 units, has already been completed and is almost fully occupied.

Roosevelt Square is one of 10 projects in the city’s Plan for Transformation. Located on 100 acres at the former ABLA Homes site near the Little Italy neighborhood on Chicago’s south side, the $700 million Roosevelt Square will consist of 2,441 residential units that will be developed in six phases.  In keeping with the CHA’s goals, one-third of the units in Roosevelt Square will be sold at market value, one-third will be built as affordable housing and the final third will be low-income housing. Developer Related Midwest partnered with the non-profit affordable housing developer Heartland Alliance to jointly develop the property, with Related owning the for-sale portion, and Heartland owning and managing the rental portion.

Construction of the rental portion of Phase II of Roosevelt Square is underway, with the for-sale portion set to break ground in the beginning of the year.

“The goal, I think, is really to change the face of public housing from a design perspective and from a community perspective, and try to create mixed-income communities that will create upward mobility opportunities for the residents of the neighbor hood,” says Andy Geer, vice president of Heartland Alliance.

The first phase, which began in 2004 and was recently completed, consists of 417 units, 181 of which will be rental units and 236 of which will be for-sale housing. The phase consists mostly of apartment and condominium units, with some townhomes. The community has proved to be popular; all of the apartment units have been leased, and only six of the for-sale units are still available.

In keeping with the look of the surrounding neighborhood, the buildings heights at Roosevelt Square have been capped at five stories.

Construction has also commenced on the rental portion of Phase II, with the for-sale portion set to break ground in the beginning of next year. In addition to apartment, condo and townhome units, Phase II will contain a few attached single-family homes. The rest of the development will be constructed in 400- to 450-unit phases over the next 6 to 8 years. Condo buildings in Roosevelt Square will include three-story buildings containing three and 12 units, as well as three five-story buildings with 45 units each on Roosevelt Road. Rental buildings will include three-flat and six-flat buildings, as well as nine- and 15-unit buildings. Three-story townhome buildings will also be built, in which the bottom floor will be contain one-bedroom units, and the top two floors will contain three- or four-bedroom units.

The structure of the neighborhood will also be changed. Gone will be the superblocks that characterized the old public housing blueprint, which will be replaced with smaller blocks constructed in the traditional grid system similar to the surrounding neighborhoods. The heights of the buildings in Roosevelt Square will also be capped, with no building in the development taller than five stories. In addition to residential units, buildings located on Taylor Street near the northern end of the development will also contain ground-floor retail. Taylor Street, which is known as the spine of Little Italy, contains a grouping of restaurants and retail, and will serve as one of the retail destinations for residents of Roosevelt Square.

“Our vision is that this neighborhood will be a destination neighborhood,” Geer says. “You’ll see a mix of different housing product. You’re going to see townhomes, and it will look like any block in the city of Chicago that you go to — a healthy and vibrant block. We’re looking at it becoming the next great Chicago neighborhood, and making it a place where people want to live.”

 The city of Chicago is also doing its part to enhance the surrounding neighborhood. The city is developing a park at the southern end of the development that will feature a community center, a pool and a gym. Plans will also call for playgrounds and ball fields in the future. Related has also worked with nearby Smyth Elementary School to help improve the school’s facilities, as well as help it obtain an international baccalaureate program.

“We’re in the business of creating landmarks in the communities in which we work by working with the communities and with the elected officials — our role is to provide great housing product for all the different communities that we serve, particularly Roosevelt Square,” says Brad White, vice president of Related Midwest. “Our goal is also to make sure a wonderful community develops there, outside of the communities themselves.”

The initial popularity of Roosevelt Square and Columbus’ housing developments proves that the market for urban living is strong. While each city has a different plan for redeveloping its residential sector, both have seen the writing on the wall that urban residential redevelopment is going to be a major housing trend in the near future. Whether it is the reinvention of an older city neighborhood or an up-and-coming city trying to establish itself, both Chicago and Columbus are poised for growth for a long time to come.

©2007 France Publications, Inc. Duplication or reproduction of this article not permitted without authorization from France Publications, Inc. For information on reprints of this article contact Barbara Sherer at (630) 554-6054.

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