Crane Watch: Will 2021 Be a Comeback Year for Big Projects?

Big mixed-use projects, especially those with residential components, have been pressing ahead during the pandemic.

The Scioto Peninsula project, for example, has been proceeding, with its first office building topped out and several more blocks of structural steel going up for future offices, residential units and parking.

“It’s a real testament to the resilience of the market for these to go ahead,” said Guy Worley, CEO of Columbus Downtown Development Corp., master developer of the Scioto Peninsula project.

Worley said developers shouldn’t be too quick to change things up yet. He said Columbus’ growth, which better insulates the city from pandemic slowdowns that have affected other areas, should dictate how things go forward.

For example, backers of the Scioto Peninsula project are still planning to develop about 2 million square feet of office space and 1,800 housing units. A proposed hotel is on hold but is expected to move forward once the hospitality and travel sector comes back. The total investment could reach $500 million.

Elsewhere, CoverMyMeds has hastened work on its $240 million headquarters complex, a Chipotle office building is nearing completion in Arena District, and work continues on the new Columbus Crew SC stadium, where another mixed-use development will follow in its shadow.

Cranes are up and active at the $200 million Grandview Crossing development as workers complete the first portions of the mixed-use project.

A mile to the north, the $200 million Founders Park development is well underway for both commercial and residential portions. The redevelopment of Marble Cliff Quarry also has begun, as have the final stages of Jeffrey Park. And the $700 million Bridge Park development in Dublin keeps adding new blocks

“We’re about 66% done with Bridge Park, and I don’t think you’ll see any one thing (change much because of the pandemic),” said Brent Crawford, principal of Bridge Park developer Crawford Hoying.

The Dublin-based developer had earlier adjusted the build-out to favor more condos to reflect the hot housing market but its office components are still seeing strong interest from tenants. A planned sports fieldhouse, which requires a deal with the city, was put on hold.

Bob White Jr., president of Columbus develper Daimer Group Inc., said his company hasn’t slowed new office development, with work on buildings commencing at the Scioto Peninsula and Hamilton Quarter.

He said rather than abandoning offices, the pandemic has driven companies to look at upgrading their space to reflect new health and safety protocols and hybrid work.

“We don’t see office going away,” White said.

Still, office vacancy rates are elevated and some projects have slowed or changed. The final stage of Jeffrey Park, for example, has been redesigned. Its mixed-use tower was shortened to allow its office element to be built more quickly.

And plans for several other high-rises in the urban core have passed their development timelines or have not returned for further review.

The 26-story building planned by the North Market saw its expected summer 2020 groundbreaking delayed, although the team behind the project says it’s still moving forward.

And little action has been seen at the city level or on the ground at the Whittier Peninsula, Harmony Tower and Millennial Tower proposals. Developers from all three have said they remain viable plans, but have not released concrete details on progress.

Landon Zimmer, in-house counsel for Whittier Peninsula developer Zimmer Development Company LLC, said the Wilmington, North Carolina-based company is still doing its due diligence on plans for 1.75 million square feet of office space, residential units and retail in multiple towers as tall as 30 stories.

The project on a 17-acre plot of undeveloped land near the Scioto Audubon Metro Park was envisioned in a gradual process of many phases, Zimmer said.

Construction of the $220 million Hilton Columbus Downtown expansion, meanwhile, has been progressing with no delays since breaking ground months before the pandemic hit. Ground floor portions are being built, with the tower to rise this summer.

Meanwhile, development activity has been busy in the suburbs. New and redevelopment projects are underway in Upper Arlington, Worthington Westerville, Reynoldsburg and several other cities.