Keeping it Authentic
NRI President Brian Ellis is quick to distance the company’s vision for Franklinton from other master-planned neighborhoods nurtured to life by the real estate development firm.
“Well, it’s not Grandview Yard,” Ellis said of Franklinton’s potential future, following his company’s recent acquisition of a $1 million property in the gritty area west of downtown.
The Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. affiliate has grown its land holdings in East Franklinton, the peninsula reaching east from Route 315 to the downtown skyline, to more than 70 parcels spread over 10 acres, most recently paying the seven-figure price for 2.3 acres of vacant land along West Broad Street.
Details on the developer’s vision are scant, with Ellis speaking only broadly of a mix of uses that would see offices and retail oriented toward Broad Street.
What Nationwide Realty knows definitively is it won’t imitate Grandview Yard, the burgeoning mixed-use district sprawling across 125 acres, or its celebrated 75-acre Arena District that has coalesced around Nationwide Arena – both of which have a similar look with mostly conservatively designed, upscale red brick buildings.
“In both cases, when we got involved there was nothing going on. We basically created two submarkets that we largely control,” Ellis said. “(In Franklinton) the vision is a collective vision. The reason that we got involved was to support the redevelopment efforts there that were already going on when we got involved.”
He points to the Columbus Idea Foundry, a creative makerspace that many credit as a catalyst for activity in East Franklinton.
Casto and Robert Weiler Co. are preparing to build a mixed-use apartment community on the southeastern tip of the peninsula.
And a new Ohio Veterans Memorial and Museum is under construction along the Scioto River, with a public greenspace going in to the south.
“(It) will continue evolution into Franklinton,” Guy Worley, CEO of the Columbus Downtown Development Corp., said of the nonprofit group’s planned Scioto Peninsula Park.
The time line for announcing specific projects and starting construction, Ellis said, is dependent on finding office and restaurant tenants.
“Like any other development, it’s all user-driven for us,” he said. “We want to be thoughtful in terms of what we want to do. We’re going to wait for the right thing and if that thing doesn’t come around in the next six months, we can be patient.”
Ellis knows Nationwide Realty, with the backing of a Fortune 100 company notching $24 billion in sales last year, is being closely watched in Franklinton, an eccentric, outspoken community where some are wary of large outside investors.
It’s a notion Columbus Development Director Steve Schoeny and others in the development community have spoken to.
“We respect that, that’s another reason (it’s not Grandview Yard). To some people that conveys a certain architectural style, or just a different kind of a feel than what I think is appropriate for East Franklinton,” Ellis said. “I think a mix of things can happen. I think (Franklinton) should be authentic. What (there is) so far in East Franklinton is authentic, and it’s better because of it. (But) we don’t want to… you sort of don’t fake gritty. A new building’s a new building. But you also want to have it fit in and be complementary to the other things around it and that’s what we intend to do.”
Trent Smith, executive director of the Franklinton Board of Trade, said he’s supportive of Nationwide Realty’s approach following informal meetings.
“As long as they stay sensitive to the character,” he said. “We don’t want to be prescriptive about who does what, but the neighborhood does have a certain look – use of brick and rustic materials is always a good thing. We like that we’re, as Mayor Coleman once described us, a funky neighborhood.”
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