Standing in the ornate lobby of the Atlas Building, local developer Michael Schiff sounded like a proud parent as he discussed his plans for renovating the historic Downtown skyscraper at the northeastern corner of N. High and Long streets.
“Look at all this marble,” Schiff said, sweeping his hand to point out the floors, columns and staircase covered in the crystalline limestone material that has been a prized building material for centuries. “There’s not a lobby like this anywhere else in Columbus.”
And then he pointed to the ceiling, which is covered in brightly colored sunken panels called coffers.
Work will start soon on the $20 million renovation project to convert the 1905 office building into a 98-unit, upscale apartment building with retail space on either side of the lobby.
Ruscilli Construction is the general contractor, and work is expected to be completed by the fall of 2014.
“We’re taking it down to the studs,” Schiff said of the second through 12th floors, which have been vacant for about four years.
“Everything inside the apartments will be brand new, but the building will still have all that old-time charm.”
The Atlas is indeed filled with charm, along with its coffers and cornices.
“This is one of the most exuberant buildings in Columbus,” said Robert Loversidge, CEO of Schooley Caldwell Associates and the architect for the renovation project.
The Atlas was designed by Frank Packard, whom Loversidge described as the city’s preeminent building designer from the late 1880s through the first two decades of the ensuing century.
It was originally built for the Columbus Savings & Trust. All that remains of the long-defunct bank is a plaque in the entrance to the lobby. Neither Schiff nor Loversidge knows why or when it was renamed the Atlas Building.
Packard’s design followed a tried-and-true pattern that can be seen in many of the city’s first tall buildings.
“It has an elaborate base,” Loversidge said of the first three floors. “Then there’s a simple, shaft center, topped by the most fabulous cornices of any building in Columbus.”
While impressed by the design, it was the price — about $2.5 million, plus $500,000 to cover back taxes — that sealed the Atlas deal for Schiff and his partners: SafeAuto Realty LLC, Tom Heilman, Scott Pickett, Dave Anderson and Stoneo Investments LLC.
The renovation project will also receive about
$6.4 million in Ohio and federal historic-preservation tax credits.
“Without these, buildings like this could sit here empty forever,” Schiff said. “No one would take the risk.”
The Atlas will also receive a 10-year tax abatement. This means, even though the value of the property will increase greatly once the renovations are complete and tenants move in, the owners will continue to pay the current real-estate tax of about $120,000 a year.
“Then, after 10 years, we will pay the full amount,” said Joel Lilly, Schiff Capital’s chief financial officer.
When he left Schottenstein Property Group in 2010 to start Schiff Capital Group, Schiff said he would focus on Short North developments.
But the Atlas was too good a deal to pass up.
“It’s on High Street in a prime location,” Schiff said. Plus there was immediate income from the first-floor tenants, the 100-space surface parking lot and the outer wall on the north side that is leased to Orange Barrel Media.
Schiff declined to say how much that exterior lease fee is but said he believes it is the highest in the city for any billboard site. A banner advertisement for Nationwide Children’s Hospital currently fills the back wall of the Atlas.
“This helped me carry it until we decided what to do with it,” Schiff said.
And what he’ll do with the Atlas is create 11 studio, 65 one-bedroom and 22 two-bedroom apartments that will rent for between $650 and $1,750 a month, Lilly said.
The apartments will feature high ceilings 11 to 12 feet — and large windows.
“Renovating is typically more difficult than a new build,” Schiff said.
This isn’t the case with the Atlas, he said, because the entire interior is being stripped down to the shell, creating an empty canvas.
“And the shell is so spectacular, it will attract people,” Schiff said.
The biggest challenge will be “getting all the new, modern stuff, the mechanicals and duct work, in and not compromising the ceiling height,” Loversidge said.
To do this, there will be drop ceilings only over the bathrooms and kitchens.
“This way, you won’t feel the loss of the high ceilings,” he said.
Completion of the project will mean more residents living along this section of N. High Street, extending the Downtown revitalization a little farther north.
“It’s critical we fill in the gaps along High Street, especially between Gay Street and Nationwide (Boulevard),” said Michael Brown, a member of the Downtown Commission and the Experience Columbus director of public affairs.
“It’s not as walkable and well developed, and we need all that energy moving in this direction.”Share