W.C. Bradley to start construction on $52 million downtown apartment complex

The W.C. Bradley Co. is poised to announce the largest real estate venture in its long history on Wednesday when it goes public with plans for a $52 million residential and retail complex along the Chattahoochee River in downtown Columbus.

The company has called a 2 p.m. news conference to announce The Rapids at Riverfront Place. Earlier this week, company officials outlined the aggressive project that will add 226 new apartments in a five-story structure just north of the 13th Street bridge.

It will also include a restaurant, retail space, park and 313-space parking garage.

“It’s a big number,” said W.C. Bradley Real Estate Division President Mat Swift. The project exceeds the cost of other developments such as Synovus Centre and Eagle & Phenix Mills condominiums and apartments along the river and Maple Ridge, a golf community in north Columbus.

Company executives have been working on this project for more than two years, Swift said.

The Rapids is the first piece of a multi-phase development on nearly 7.5 acres between the 13th and 14th Street bridges and Broadway and the river. The initial phase, which will include a park open to public use, will occupy less than 2.5 acres of the tract that the company acquired in 2003.

Construction is expected to begin in the next 60 days, Swift said. The first apartments in the 414,000-square foot mixed-use building could be available in late 2018 and early 2019.

The name comes out of the rapids on the 2.5-mile Chattahoochee whitewater course that runs behind the property.

Real estate ventures are about timing, and Swift said this one is timed around what is happening in downtown Columbus.

Columbus State University has just opened Frank D. Brown Hall, moving its nursing program and many of its educational programs downtown from the main campus. Two new hotels, an 86-room Hampton Inn and a 125-room AC Hotel, are in the works in the 1200 block of Broadway. W.C. Bradley has recently completed a decade-long project to renovate the adjacent Eagle & Phenix mill into more than 80 condominiums and 135 apartments, some fetching more than $2,000 per month in rent.

“We think it’s the next natural progression for uptown, with every thing that is coming on,” Swift said. “The two hotels that have been announced and the opening of the Columbus State Frank D. Brown Hall. No question it is a big investment for the Bradley Company, but we think it is the right thing at the right time.”

The investment is a “continuation of what has been happening in uptown,” W.C. Bradley President and CEO Marc Olivié said.

“You look at what CSU and the other private investors have done and it is a transformation of downtown,” Olivié said. “This is also a vote of confidence from the W.C. Bradley Co., because we believe in the growth of downtown. You don’t put $52 million down if you don’t believe in it.”

The plan includes:

▪  226 apartments that will consist of 11 studio units, 124 one-bedroom and 91 two-bedroom units. The rent will range from about $800 to more than $2,000 per month.

▪  7,000 square feet on the ground floor that will be reserved for a restaurant.

▪  8,700 square feet that will be reserved for retail space.

▪  A private club room.

▪  A 24-hour fitness center.

▪  A pool with a poolside bar, cabana and bocce ball court.

▪  Courtyard area with a fire pit and game tables.

▪  Legacy Park, a public space that will connect the Chattahoochee RiverWalk to Broadway.

“This does exactly what people have been hoping for over the last five years,” said Ross Horner, president of Uptown Columbus Inc., a downtown development organization. “It brings more people into the uptown market. It is important for the existing businesses, but it is also important for growing businesses, especially in the retail market. I think this turns the dial up.”

The building is called a podium apartment complex, with two parking levels serving as the base on which the apartments are built, Swift said.

“We will build two floors of parking first, then put a top on it,” Swift said. “The apartments will go on top of the parking. To build the parking first is a very complicated process. We won’t even start the apartments for six to eight months.”

When the apartments are available for rent, Swift expects to fill them quickly. W.C. Bradley owns 90 apartment units at Eagle & Phenix and another 45 units in partnership with the Flournoy Company at the 11th Street Lofts. All of those units are currently rented, Swift said.

“What we found was the demand for downtown luxury apartments has been strong,” Swift said. “ ... That is why we are doing this. We have projected when we were bringing on 40 and 50 units at a time before that it would take us six months to a year to fill them up. We filled them up in half that time.”

Prior to pulling the trigger on this development, W.C. Bradley hired Eric Liff, a consultant with Miami-based Lambert Advisory, to evaluate the downtown rental market.

“We didn’t just do this on gut feeling,” Swift said. “We hired one of the top market analysis people in Southeast. He told us downtown could absorb another 500 units over five years starting in 2015. We believe we will fill it up in a year to 18 months.”

W.C. Bradley Co. hired the Atlanta firm of Dwell Design Studio to be the planners and architects. The construction will be done by Brasfield & Gorrie, a Birmingham, Ala., company that has done extensive work in Columbus in recent years.

W.C. Bradley Real Estate has been in business for more than a half century and is a subsidiary of the W.C. Bradley Co., which was founded in 1885 as a cotton factoring business. Today, it is a global company that owns consumer brands such as Char-Broil grills, Zebco fishing equipment and Lamplight Farms Inc.

Chuck Williams: 706-571-8510, @chuckwilliams