West Broad discussion continues

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The possible redevelopment of West Broad Street is a hot topic around the Hilltop. For this reason, it was no surprise when several residents were in attendance at part two of the market analysis report presentation on the area.

The HBA has contracted Boulevard Strategies, a Columbus-based economic development consulting firm to do the study. In August, they began to compile a market analysis for land use on the Hilltop portion of West Broad Street running from Highland Avenue to Demorest Avenue.

Funded through a $15,000 grant from Columbus City Council, this study is a way to identify potential opportunities for growth in the area.

Christopher Boring, president of Boulevard Strategies, presented part one of an interim report on his progress to HBA members and Hilltop residents on Oct. 18 at the Hilltop branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library. It was continued on Oct. 30.

Boring began by stating that this study is not intended to be utilized as a land use plan or a zoning code.

He then reiterated what he felt to be the most important part of the first meeting on the topic.

“There is $525,000 being spent on retail annually by Hilltop residents and only five percent of that is being spent in the Hilltop. That means 95 percent of it is being spent someplace else,” said Boring.

Office market

Boring then dove into the night’s new topics, beginning with the office market of the West Broad Street area.

In 2002, Columbus had the nation’s highest office rate at over 24 percent. Since then, the area has improved, with a current rate of 17 percent. This high rate of improvement, however, is expected to slow down in the near future.

Boring sited several emerging office trends this decade, including mixed-use settings, energy efficiency and tax incentives.

He also named medical offices as the hottest office trend right now, due to the aging of baby boomers and the competitiveness of hospitals.

The Hilltop section of West Broad Street has attracted a huge portion of business in this field and probably could attract more, according to Boring, due to its location. The Hilltop section of West Broad Street is located directly between Mount Carmel West and Doctor’s West Hospital.

Office site selection factors

Boring has compiled several factors likely to be considered when choosing a location for an office site and listed West Broad Street’s score in each area.

The positive aspects of the area are the low occupancy costs, the nearness to major highways and bus routes, and the strength of the Hilltop community.

The negative aspects listed by Boring include a lack of amenities such as restaurants and shopping, daycare, hotels, conference facilities and recreation. Also listed as negatives were the security concerns and the local pool of labor skills.

Housing market

After six straight years of record-breaking highs in this area, the central Ohio single family housing market has declined over the last two years.

“We’ve talked about how other markets are improving, and this one’s not. it’s not just here, it’s everywhere,” said Boring.

The national housing market is the lowest it has been in 16 years.

Condo sales are down as well, due to the fact that people are not as able to sell their houses to move to condos. Regardless, condos are still the hottest segment on the market.

Typical condo buyers include empty-nesters and young couples. Desirable amenities include parking, storage, upscale finishes, one bathroom per bedroom, green space, security presence and nearby dining and entertainment.

One positive effect of a downshift in the housing market is an incline in the rental market.

According to Boring, the best opportunity to fill vacant housing on West Broad Street lies with senior housing.

Boring’s study says 20 million baby boomers will reach retirement age over the next 15 years. Those boomers will ease into retirement, and unlike the previous generation, seek to age in a place where they can take advantage of lifelong learning, second careers, social experiences, travel, outdoor activities and exercise.

“They don’t want to be segmented off. They want to be part of the community,” said Boring, “That’s where the Hilltop area and West Broad can benefit.”

Boring also mentioned that the boomers will be unlikely to want to move away from their communities when they reach retirement age, meaning that Hilltop boomers will likely seek a low-maintenance place to live somewhere in the Hilltop when they retire.

Finally, Boring gave a final piece of advice to area landlords. Young couples and empty-nesters are not likely to have children, but they are very likely to have pets.

“You just can’t pick up the paper anymore and not see something about people and their dogs,” said Boring, “If I was a landlord on West Broad, I would go way out of my way to make sure the place was pet friendly.”

According to Boring’s numbers, the Hilltop is one of the most affordable and stable areas of Columbus. Owner occupancy in the area is 58 percent, which is seven percent higher than that of Columbus.

These low rates lead to longer tenure among Hilltop residents. Sixteen percent of Hilltop residents are more likely to have lived in the same residence five years ago. This factor often leads to a higher number of people investing in and caring about their community.

Suggestions for improvement

Boring gave several suggestions for improving the climate on West Broad. Some of those suggestions include: tear down blighted buildings, more code enforcement, beautify, trash cleanup, seek more assistance from the city, additional crime patrol, better lighting and additional parking.

He also gave several suggestions for new business wanted in the area, including sit-down restaurants, coffee shops, fast food, an upscale sports bar and a gift/craft/antique shop.

These suggestions were the result of interviews with merchants conducted by Boring.

Boring feels that West Broad is at a “tipping point,” where it could go either way. With more vacancies, he feels things will continue to decline, but if those vacancies start to fill, good things could happen.

However, work needs to be done before the vacancies will fill up.

“The area needs to be clean and safe before you’re going to bring in new businesses,” said Boring.

Boring feels that the best opportunity for a business in the area is a sit-down restaurant.

“If you get one person to open and they are successful, you’ll have others. Restaurants are most successful in clusters. People usually decide what part of town to eat in and then narrow it down,” said Boring.

Boring’s final report is expected to take place in approximately one month. The date for that meeting has not yet been set.

Once those final analyzations have been made available, strategic recommendations will be formulated and given to the city, as well as the HBA.

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