North Market tower project adds a new partner, three more stories and affordable housing units

Columbus Business First

COLUMBUS, Ohio (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST)–The North Market tower, plans for which were unveiled in 2019 after years of anticipation, is taking steps toward breaking ground in 2022, including adding a partner to the development team and increasing the project scope by about $100 million.

Jim Merkel, co-founder, and CEO of Rockbridge said the team at Rockbridge is gearing up to tackle this “transformational,” nearly $292 million project. The development team behind the effort now includes Jeff Edwards, CEO and president of the Edwards Cos., Merkel said.

Other partners had included Schiff Capital Group and Wood Cos., which are now no longer partners but are still “economically invested in the project,” Merkel said.

Merkel said Edwards, who did not respond to a request for comment on his involvement, adds an important element to the development.

“This project is an extremely ambitious project. We’re passionate about creating a transformational project that meets the needs of the city as well as the North Market,” Merkel told Columbus Business First. “To put a 700,000-square-foot mixed-use building together takes a lot of resources and with Jeff’s commitment to downtown, his residential acumen and a desire to build transformational projects, he was a natural partner for the project and helping make it happen.”

The development will expand the North Market footprint by adding more than 11,000 square feet of new merchant, event and outdoor space in what is now the market’s parking lot. Construction on the 31-story development is expected to begin in the middle of next year.

The last iteration of the tower was 28 stories.

“We’re excited to see what the team does with the expansion space and how they activate it and bring new innovative businesses and give them a home to incubate and hopefully flourish like businesses before them,” Merkel said.

Updated plans

The most recent plans for the tower include a 212-room boutique hotel, more than 170 residential units and a 350-space parking garage. Floors 21 through 31 will feature the apartment units.

And now about 20% of the residential units will be affordable housing.

“That’s something that is an update from the original plan,” Merkel said. “The city’s working really hard to increase workforce housing and affordability downtown and we’re meeting that request for the city in the project.”

“It’s exciting to see this transformational vision progressing at such a critical time in Columbus, as this proposed plan for the project not only secures the preservation and expansion of the North Market – it also creates construction and permanent jobs for residents,” Mayor Andrew Ginther said in a news release.

“This partnership between public and private entities addresses the region’s need for housing Columbus residents can afford and adds important hotel accommodations that help us compete for convention business and events.”

The original plans for the tower called for 90,000 square feet of office space. That has changed to 60,000 square feet of office.

Merkel said they eliminated a floor of office space to accommodate more residential units.

There also will be a social club with a focus on wellness on floors 19 and 20 in the tower. The club’s programming will feature fitness facilities, a destination spa, a library bar, a game room, restaurant and outdoor pool and fireplaces.

“The fitness programming and wellness programming will really make it a place to relax and and get together with friends and family,” Merkel said.

The building will have a “refined industrial design,” inspired by the North Market and Union Station, which once ran through the site. The “Trade Room” will be a large gathering space on the ground floor that will welcome people into the tower.

That Trade Room will be a “nerve center” for the whole hotel, Merkel said, complete with a grand fireplace, coffee shop, barber shop and other retail.

Rockbridge recently submitted these plans to the Downtown Commission and the Historic Resources Commission, which are expected to review them in the next few weeks.

“We’ve been spending the last 18 months refining and going through every detail of the project to make sure that it’s all the way we want it and functioning efficiently,” Merkel said.

NBBJ is the project’s lead architect.

Focus on North Market

The North Market was established by city ordinance in 1876. Today, it has about 35 merchants and is known as a business incubator, with successes such as Jeni’s and Hot Chicken Takeover starting in the public market.

The North Market will remain open with regular hours during construction, which is expected to deliver about 1,600 jobs.

“We love the market we think it’s an amazing historical asset of the city and the opportunity for our project to make it flourish and thrive for generations to come is really exciting,” Merkel said.

Rick Harrison Wolfe, North Market executive director, said the market must evolve to stay relevant and prosperous, especially at a time when so many small businesses need creative plans for recovery from the pandemic.

Merkel said the tower was designed with the North Market in mind, purposely putting most of the mass of the tower on the southeast corner of the project and the furthest away from the market. Merkel said the project will boost sales for the North Market.

Rockbridge also has been collaborating with building owners along Wall Street at the front entrance of the project site to clean up the street and enhance the streetscape.

This project is in the “bullseye of the city” and will be a calling card to visitors, increasing the interest of people wanting to come to Columbus, Merkel said.

When completed, the project is expected to generate about 600 new jobs and nearly $1 billion in economic impact over its first decade.

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