By Marla Matzer Rose, Courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch
Columbus was once known as the Buggy Capital of the World. By 1890, the Columbus Buggy Company was the largest manufacturer in Ohio, and the world. Today what is left of the Columbus Buggy Company is now known as the Buggyworks buildings and currently consists of housing lofts and condominiums.
Before there was an Arena District, when the Ohio Penitentiary still stood, there were plans to revitalize these buildings. After years of fits and starts, two of the buildings just west of what is now Huntington Park are in the process of being transformed into 145,000 square feet of office space.
Nationwide Realty Investors bought the buildings several years ago from longtime owner Kyle Katz, who developed the Buggyworks condos and operated the nightclub Mekka in one of the buildings in the mid-1990s. He had bigger plans that never materialized.
Brian Ellis, president of Nationwide Realty Investors, said that after considering a variety of uses for the buildings at 390 and 400 West Nationwide Blvd., it was decided that they were best suited to offices. There is almost no vacant office space currently in the core Arena District.
Most of the buildings in the Arena District were newly built, though their red brick exteriors were designed to blend with older buildings in the area. The larger of the two office buildings currently under renovation, the timber-frame Buggyworks building, is actually historic, dating to 1902.
“This offers something unique in the Arena District,” Ellis said on a recent tour of the project, pointing out the wood beams and interior exposed brick that will remain when renovations are completed.
Nationwide is balancing the historic with the modern.
The company considered applying for historic tax credits for the project, Ellis said, but decided that designing the spaces for “modern use” would require more changes than allowed under historic-renovation restrictions.
They started by demolishing portions of the buildings that had been added on over the years and that blocked windows. Now there are sweeping views of Downtown and natural light. The brick walls weren’t insulated, which typically would mean that insulation would be added on the inside and covered with drywall. On the older building, the decision was made to keep the exposed brick on the inside and instead put the insulation on the outside — where the brick was badly weathered — and “re-brick” over that.
Nationwide is targeting September as a completion date for the offices. There are no signed tenants yet, but Ellis says Nationwide is in talks with prospective tenants.