COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – A Gahanna developer’s years-long plan to transform a bygone South Side shoe factory into a five-story apartment building earned a tentative thumbs-up from city planners last week.

On Thursday, the Brewery District Commission said it is pleased with The Stonehenge Company’s progress on its proposal to convert the former Jones Heel Manufacturing Co. buildings into a 100-unit apartment complex while keeping intact the brick facade that once housed an integral part of Columbus’ shoe-rich history.

A 1919 photo of the Jones Heel Manufacturing Co. building, located on the intersection of South Front and West Whittier streets. (Courtesy Photo/Columbus Metropolitan Library)

Though the Commission stopped short of granting its official conceptual approval of the building – as was the hope of Stonehenge’s planning and development director Doug Ervin – Commissioner Cynthia Hunt said the design has “grown tremendously” since its first draft, leaving Ervin and his colleagues optimistic.

“We’re all going to take several bites of this apple,” Ervin said Thursday. “I mean, this is gonna be an iterative process, and we understand that. Actually, I welcome that dialogue and critique – that’s how you get good ideas.”

The proposed site, located on the northwest corner of South Front and West Whittier streets, will house about 100 multifamily residential units with a mix of one- and two-bedroom apartments that range in size from 600 to 1,300 square feet, according to Stonehenge spokesperson Katie Wilson. Each unit will be adorned with a balcony, and residents can access courtyard space and other amenities.

Its original design received pushback from preservationists, but Ervin said Stonehenge came to a concession with commissioners: In lieu of tearing down the one-story warehouse adjacent to the six-story Jones Heel tower, the company plans to build atop it to maintain the faded “Jones Heel Manufacturing Co.” logo plastered on its brick facade.

Maintaining the original components of the building, Ervin said, allows Columbus and its residents to latch onto the city’s history.

“We don’t have a lot of our industrial past left in this town; we’ve knocked it all down,” he said.

Built in 1917, the Jones Heel buildings – part of the larger Jones Shoe Manufacturing Co. – housed a $1 million heel-making industry, making it one of the largest in the U.S., according to the Columbus Metropolitan Library. At the time, the plant sat on the edge of the Erie Canal.

“This was right on the lifeblood, economic artery for Columbus as a burgeoning city after the Civil War,” Ervin said, “so I think it’s really important that people understand their story.”

As an added flare, Ervin said he’s currently on the lookout for shoe lasts – the solid object shoemakers use to mold footwear – to showcase a public display that represents the building’s history.

Units are expected to cost between $1,300 and $2,000, Ervin said. The developer wants at least 10% of units to be reserved as affordable housing for low-income and working-class residents.

The Stonehenge Company, which bought the Jones Heel site for $1.85 million in 2019, according to the Franklin County Auditor’s Office, is aiming to receive the Commission’s final stamp of approval this fall once it nails down the details of the proposal’s smaller components, like its outdoor courtyards and the space between the site and neighboring houses.

If approval is granted by fall, Ervin said he estimates construction to begin at the end of this year or in early 2024.