by Dan Rafter
Tom McGarity, managing principal of the Columbus office of Cassidy Turley, has good news for brokers working this market’s retail sector: Activity is on the rise. But it’s not big malls or giant developments that are fueling today’s retail market in Columbus. It’s smaller, infill projects that are providing retail activity today in the city.
Midwest Real Estate News: How strong is the retail market in Columbus today?
Tom McGarity: It is slightly better than it has been in the last several years. There has been an up-tick in redevelopment back into the core of the city. Our developers around here are looking for opportunities close-in to the population. They are looking to repurpose other sites into retail sites.
MREN: So, smaller infill sites are where you’re seeing a lot of retail activity today?
McGarity: Yes. People are looking at sites that five, 10 or 15 acres. They want to redevelop those sites into some retail. They’re also looking at those sites for restaurant uses an multi-family developments. As in many markets across the Midwest, the apartment market here in Columbus has gone crazy. We’re seeing the development of smaller retail, neighborhood strip centers, convenience-type retail. We are not seeing much in the way of power strips or larger community centers.
MREN: In what parts of the Columbus market are you seeing this type of redevelopment activity?
McGarity: We have it going on a lot in the southern part of the CBD. We are even seeing it in the suburbs. In Dublin, a high-end suburb to the northwest of Columbus, developers are taking a golf driving range and city land and turning it into a multi-use project that will include retail uses. That is the type of thing we are seeing in Columbus. We have nothing in the way of new development for malls or lifestyle centers. We are pretty much maxed-out on that on the present, and maybe in the near future, too.
MREN: What makes Columbus a good place for retailers?
McGarity: There is a demographic trend that is making a positive difference here. The young professionals do not want to live in the suburbs. The old aspiration was to graduate from college, get a good job, then buy a house and start a family. That’s not the trend now. The young people are going to apartments so that they can have more mobility. There are less expenses tied to apartment living. The re-urbanization of our population, with people coming back to the city or staying in it, has changed the dynamics for all real estate types. Developers are looking at what properties in the city are not being used to their highest quality. They are then redeveloping these properties. It’s been very successful.
MREN: What is bringing these young people to Columbus? What do they like about living in the city?
McGarity: A lot of them like the Arena District. There is a lot of entertainment and restaurants there. It’s also home to Nationwide Arena, where the Columbus Blue Jackets (of the NHL) play. They have 40 to 45 home games a year that bring in good crowds. We have Huntington Park there, where the Columbus Clippers minor-league baseball team plays. Those two facilities have several events every year. There are parks close by, and they have marathons and charity races during the year. There is an activity level here that wasn’t here 20 yearsa ago.
MREN: What else exciting is going on in Columbus?
McGarity: There’s been a revitalization of the riverfront area. The city has put a lot of money into this area to make it more attractive. There is now a link between the Arena District and the Short North district, a part of the city known for its art galleries and restaurants. There is a different type of entertainment in the Short North area. Further south, we have the Brewery District. That district had been in decline over the years. It is coming back now with quite a bit of development. We are seeing a lo of new apartments there. I’d say there has been 2,000 to 3,000 new apartment units in the Brewery District.
We’re also excited about the Columbus Commons. That is a new park on what was formerly the City Center Mall in Columbus. The mall had fallen into disrepair and was purchased by the city. The city demolished it and turned it into a park. Now they’ve developed apartments and office buildings around it. It’s a beautiful park in downtown Columbus. All of the runs and the cycling races either start there or end there. There’s also a theater there for outdoor concerts. These attractions are all important for Columbus. The young graduates that come out of the many colleges around Columbus now don’t have to go to Chicago or New York City to get that feeling that they are living in an urban setting.
MREN: What do you see for the future of retail – or any commercial sector – in Columbus?
McGarity: At the moment, we are a bit over-retailed per capita. But I once heard a gentleman say, ‘We are not over-retailed. We are under-demolished.’ That’s an interesting comment. There are older retail centers in the city that are struggling. They keep on putting in dollar stores. These need to be repurposed. Instead of trying to hold onto retail that is 30 years past its useful life, it makes more sense to repurpose these older properties.