First it tore down Peabody Apartments and built Ashley Station. Then it demolished Baker Village Apartments and built Arbor Pointe.
Now the Housing Authority of Columbus is ready to start on Booker T. Washington Apartments, pursuing a plan to relocate residents, rip down the buildings and redevelop the four-block-square housing project into a mixed-income neighborhood with businesses fronting Veterans Parkway and Victory Drive.
The authority will try to finance the project with a mix of funding sources such as the tax-credit financing it used for the $38 million Arbor Pointe project. To help with that, it will bring on a developer to partner in the effort and determine the best uses for the property.
The authority’s board is to make that choice during its meeting at 10 a.m. Wednesday, said Len Williams, its executive director.
Estimating the 392-unit complex has about 1,000 residents -- about a tenth of the total population of Columbus public housing -- Williams cautioned that residents needn’t be alarmed that relocation is imminent. Such endeavors always take four or five years, and the authority likely will first build other housing nearby where BTW occupants could move.
Such projects typically happen in phases. The relocation of residents from the old Peabody Apartments off Talbotton Road began in September 2003; demolition started in July 2004; and Ashley Station opened in March 2007.
At Baker Village off Victory Drive, the relocation of residents started in February 2007, and the first phase of Arbor Pointe opened in September 2009.
A hot property
Williams acknowledged redeveloping BTW won’t be the same as the first two projects because the site has so much potential.
Built in 1940, when what is now Veterans Parkway was Fourth Avenue and more residential than commercial, Booker T. Washington Apartments today sits directly north of the Columbus Civic Center and the South Commons sports fields.
Its eastern border is Sixth Avenue, which the city has rebuilt and relandscaped after a sewer project that’s supposed to alleviate flooding and make property alongside the avenue more suitable for future development.
The northern border is Sixth Street, where north of the apartments, the school district recently spent $4.7 million to rebuild the Mildred Terry Library.
Its western border is Veterans Parkway, which the city now is redesigning and landscaping to beautify.
So, the apartments now are in the center of public investment in surrounding properties, increasing potential uses.
“Everybody in town has their eye on this site. It’s going to be very, very different and more complicated than the other two, because everybody you ask has an opinion about what needs to happen there,” Williams said. “It’s such an important site for the community. And really it was not by accident that we picked this one to be the third one.”
The $57 million transition from Peabody Apartments to Ashley Station was funded partly by a $20 million federal Hope VI grant, a program that today essentially has dried up, Williams said. When the authority had that money available, consultants advised it to tackle BTW then, but Williams didn’t think BTW was the place to start redeveloping.
“When we were first looking at the Hope VI, some of the consultants who were working with us just begged me to go to BTW, but I thought, first, the other two sites were worse, and you want to do worst first,” he said. “And I knew that it was going to be, maybe ‘controversial’ is not the word, but I knew it was going to draw a lot of interest; it was going to be very complicated; and it seemed better for us to show the community we could do good work before we went into the area.”
He believes the authority’s success with Ashley Station and Arbor Pointe will give the public confidence in what it can do at BTW, despite a significant difference.
“They weren’t hot areas in terms of commercial,” he said of the first two.
Part of the plan
But all three projects were part of the authority’s long-range plan, he said.
“We identified Peabody, Baker Village, BTW, as properties to be eventually redeveloped. Perhaps Chase might be on the list next, after BTW.”
The Chase Homes complex is off Second Avenue north of the TSYS campus and just east of the Chattahoochee River, an area city leaders expect to become more valuable if downtown revitalization spreads along the Chattahoochee Riverwalk.
Much of what happens to BTW depends on a real-estate study of what new properties the market can support, but Williams can picture what he’d like to see -- not only at the BTW site, but in the Liberty Theatre district at Eighth Avenue and Ninth Street.
“Ideally I’d like to see commercial on Victory and Veterans. I don’t know if that would be a hotel or a supermarket or restaurants, I would like to see a core of maybe 130, 150 units behind there. Then I’d like to see another 130 to 150 units up around the Liberty Theatre area,” he said. “I think that would be ideal.”