Whittier Peninsula Development Could Open A New Front For Downtown Expansion

Downtown Columbus is expanding to the north and west. A mega-project proposed for Whittier Peninsula could open up a new southern front.

Zimmer Development Co., the North Carolina developer behind the proposal, has never built in Columbus or Ohio before, but the company says the local market’s activity makes it an ideal time to enter the market with a statement piece. While the developer isn’t ready to formally clarify the scope of the 17.3-acre development, renderings submitted to the city show half a dozen towers, including a capstone mixed-use building rising 30 stories.

The rezoning application for the land postulates at least 10 buildings including seven towers, most of which contain ground-floor retail, three or more floors of office space and more residential space over top. In all, the rezoning application pitches nearly 1.75 million square feet of space served by 1,489 spaces of structured parking.

It’s divided into 1,045,160 square feet of residential space; 584,910 square feet of office space; 115,680 square feet of retail and amenity space; and 519,460 square feet of parking space. These are evenly spaced out between the four phases.

Still, Landon Zimmer, the company’s in-house counsel, said the final build-out of the project will be subject to market conditions as it is received. Zimmer plans to start with two towers in the seven to 12-story range, which would include 350 to 400 residential units, about 100,000 square feet of office space and 50,000 square feet of retail space.

The developer’s project is getting a first look at the Brewery District Commission this week. That body ultimately must approve its architecture. But substantial engineering and other development hurdles lie ahead – the land has for decades been owned by CSX Transportation Inc. and is sandwiched between the Scioto Audubon Metro Park and rail lines that run nearby.

The company’s rezoning application filed with the city gives only general massing diagrams to demonstrate a fully built-out project. But the developer’s architect, Columbus-based NBBJ, has drawn up more detailed architectural renderings. The developer is also working with local real estate firm Smith & Hale LLC as it works through the project’s plans.

Then there’s the question of tenants. A project with commercial space of this size is likely to need an anchor tenant to kick off its construction, and the developer said it’s probably a year from pulling permits and three years from opening its first buildings. But its location – next to a park and in what’s today a more quiet part of town, could give it a leg up on bringing in big tenants.

“It’s still very active, the top tier offices are getting a lot of of play in the Arena District and the Short North,” said Wayne Harer, a broker with Newmark Knight Frank who has worked with many commercial properties in the downtown area. “They could have a unique setting down there if they have the right amenity package. They could catch a big office user and make a statement based on that.”

Zimmer, established in 1989, has developed 250 projects in 140 cities totaling $3 billion, including 8 million square feet of retail space and 9,400 multi-family beds.