The 1200 block of Broadway serves as the frontier of downtown Columbus investment

Photos by ROBIN TRIMARCHI/rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.comAt the corner of the 1200 block of Broadway, the former Ledger-Enquirer building is being redeveloped by Columbus State University. The location will be the site of the CSU College of Education and Health Professions.
Photos by ROBIN TRIMARCHI/rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.comAt the corner of the 1200 block of Broadway, the former Ledger-Enquirer building is being redeveloped by Columbus State University. The location will be the site of the CSU College of Education and Health Professions. rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com

It was the forgotten block of Broadway, dotted with old buildings crumbling as they fell out of favor and into disrepair.

The primary commerce was a string of loan companies and a few furniture stores.

As the new century brought hope and development to other parts of downtown Columbus, the 1200 block was left out of the party.

But that is now changing, and it's changing rapidly as Columbus State University constructs its College of Education and Health Professions at the corner of 12th Street and Broadway, the former site of the Ledger-Enquirer.

"I am grateful that it has finally caught up to us," said Jim Thorsen, a Columbus veterinarian who, along with his wife, Patti, purchased a building at 1236 Broadway and has been living in a 3,300-square-foot loft apartment on the second floor for 15 years.

And it has caught up in a big way.

The 1200 block is the new downtown frontier of investment and opportunity, with traditional players like the W.C. Bradley Co. and smaller investors looking for pieces of the economic pie, converging in a swirl of acquisition and construction.

Mat Swift, president of the W.C. Bradley Real Estate Division, said the nearly $25 million CSU investment in that corner and the promise of 1,800 students, faculty and staff on site sparked a lot of the activity.

"When they broke ground on CSU, a lot of people started thinking, 'This thing has traction,'" Swift said. "That gave people the confidence."

CSU is scheduled to open the new buildings for the spring semester of 2017.

Richard Bishop, president of Uptown Columbus Inc., a downtown development organization that promotes the area and works with investors interested in locating there, said this activity has been "a long time coming."

"There is no question in my mind that the Columbus State development of the old Ledger-Enquirer site has jump started what you are seeing in the 1200 block."

What's on the corners?

Three of the four corner parcels in the 1200 block have large buildings that are prime for anchor uses that will help feed what happens in the roughly 25 buildings remaining on the block.

Two of those three are set for redevelopment and the third is the block's great mystery and the source of much speculation.

Columbus businessman and developer John Teeples is part of an investment team, including Raj Arora and Jimmy Brooks, that has purchased the 1200 Raymond Rowe building, a structure that had been a four-story albatross at the corner of 12th Street and Broadway, catty-corner to the CSU construction. They paid $825,000 for the building in June, according to Musocgee County tax records.

The plans call to add a fifth floor to the old furniture store.

"This place has a great view," Teeples said last week from atop the 1200 building. "This is one of the best corners in Columbus, Georgia. There is energy here. You can see it and feel it."

What you can see from the roof of the old Raymond Rowe building is the construction of the CSU complex. It is the reason you have people like Teeples talking about adding 12,000 square feet to a 60,000-square-foot structure that has not been in use since 2008.

Teeples has a grand vision about what he wants to do with the 1200 building. It will include a makeover that will add windows throughout the structure. It will have retail/restaurants on the bottom floor. The second, third and fourth floors could be a combination of office and residential. Teeples envisions a roof-top restaurant and premium office space on the top floor.

He has yet to submit his plans to the Columbus facade board for approval, but he said he would do that in the coming months. The building could be completed as early as the summer of 2017, Teeples said.

In the meantime, Teeples plans to move Big Dog Running Co., a business in which he is a partner, from its current location in the 1100 block of Broadway into a temporary spot in the 1200 building. Big Dog will eventually land in a building Teeples owns and is renovating at 1228 Broadway.

Across the street and at the north end of the block, W.C. Bradley has started renovation of the old Holiday House furniture store. The vacant building will house Starrett-Bytewise, a Columbus technology firm, before the end of the year, said General Manager Andy Hidle.

The company and its 30 employees are leaving Brookstone Centre to move into the 1245 Broadway building, which has about 20,000 square feet. Starrett-Bytewise makes laser-based measuring systems used in manufacturing for items such as tires and decking.

"It is the perfect location," Hidle said. "You have energy and resources that make it an ideal place for our employees."

"As Starrett-Bytewise recruits and possibly expands, the downtown location is critical," Hidle said.

"All of the restaurants, shops and activities will allow us to attract and retain the high-tech employees that we need," he said. "This will also be a good opportunity for those who want to live downtown."

The big secret

If you know what is going to happen with the building closest to the CSU construction site, you are in a very small group. Even the ownership of the old Aaron's Rents building is hush-hush.

The building is owned by EJWH LLLP, which purchased it for $1.25 million in August 2014, about four months before the CSU foundation announced the purchase of the Ledger-Enquirer site. Columbus real-estate attorney Barry Vaught is the registered agent and general partner for the LLLP that bought the four-story building. He declined last week to discuss the partnership, its members or its plans for the property.

"It is the question mark," Bishop said. "We know all of the players in the other projects in that block, but we don't know who is involved in the Aaron's building."

In addition to the structure that fronts Broadway, the Aaron's property also has a large parking lot behind it. It is one of the few sites in the 1200 block that could accommodate the construction of a parking deck.

But the Aaron's building, constructed in 1900, is not the only large structure that is still a question mark.

Two of those buildings are the Rialto and Bradley theaters, separated by two storefronts on the west side of the 1200 block. The Rialto and Bradley are no longer set up as theaters. They have been converted to event centers, though they are not currently in use, Swift said.

The challenge Swift and W.C. Bradley face is how to use them in the downtown mix as the space is redeveloped. What happens at the two theaters will likely shape what happens with other property W.C. Bradley owns on the block.

"There are certain users we think we will leverage others uses," Swift said, without going into specifics. "It may be a smaller user and it might be a big user. There could be a small user that we think the timing is right. Typically, you get the big anchor in and the smaller places fill in."

The primary interest in the Rialto and Bradley Theater is coming from people who want to convert them into event centers, Swift said.

"It could be everything from art events to music events to meeting events," he said. "We have had some churches approach us from the standpoint of putting a youth ministry down there. The issue we struggle with is it is going to be pretty expensive to convert those buildings, and we want to make sure what goes in there can justify the cost."

W.C. Bradley has hired Live Work Learn Play, a Toronto-based master developer that is working to help identify end-users for some of the company's existing buildings in downtown, specifically the 1200 block holdings and property along Bay Avenue. Live Work Learn Play specializes in downtowns and urban villages.

"They are a world-renowned urban design and urban attraction consulting firm," Swift said. "Their expertise is helping urban developers find the right use for the right building."

And they are working on how to market and use the two theaters.

"They are specialists in that they don't just determine what use ought to go into what building," he said. "They will take unique buildings and look for special tenants that could go in them. It will add value not only to the building and buildings around them, but to the entire downtown."