When it comes to university/city collaborations there’s lots of great examples out there to learn from and this year we’ve made an effort to get some hands-on schooling. A few months ago City and University staff (along with a couple of Council members) traveled to Purdue University in West Lafayette Indiana to get an insider’s view of how a very successful city/university partnership works. And in a couple of weeks we’re sending a contingent to the Spicer Village project in Akron which is a result of the University Park Alliance. We’ve also had folks from Normal Illinois, Boulder Colorado, and Columbus Ohio come visit us here in Kent so that they can share their insights based on what they see on their walk around town. The types of problems from one university town to another is remarkably similar and we hope the solutions prove to be as well. Here’s an example of how the Columbus Campus Partners group transformed an old hotel into new student housing and retail.
The three-year redevelopment of the former Seneca Hotel at E. Broad Street and Grant Avenue included spending $100,000 to make the lobby impressive.
Chalk one up for history.
More than two decades after the Seneca Hotel was sealed tight, a developer is preparing to take the wraps off a $21 million renovation of the historic building in the Discovery District Downtown.
This week, Campus Apartments of Philadelphia is offering a first look at the results of three years of work to convert the former hotel into apartments. The result: 77 apartment units and some flashy public spaces — $100,000 was spent restoring the lobby — that could bring vitality back to the corner of E. Broad Street and Grant Avenue.
“The common-area spaces are something you don’t see every day,” said Campus Partners Chief Executive David Adelman. “We’re bringing back that historical lure of the building.
“We think the units are very generously sized and have finishes on par with condominium finishes. That’s what differentiates this building: Old World design with New World amenities and finishes.”
Designed by architect Frank Packard, the Seneca was built in 1917 and soon became one of the city’s grand Downtown hotels. It was once the home of the Ohio State University Faculty Club and later was converted to office space for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
But after the Ohio EPA moved out in 1987, the hotel was closed until Campus Apartments, which rents out 16,000 apartment beds in 14 states, acquired the property and began to plan its rebirth. Adelman, an Ohio State University graduate, said he had been aware of the Seneca for a decade. He knew tackling the project would not be easy.
The first step was to clean the large amount of asbestos out of the walls.
Campus Apartments applied for a $1.9 million Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund grant but was denied. However, it later secured a $750,000 Clean Ohio Assistance Fund grant, and the city agreed to make up most of the difference to pay for asbestos remediation.
John Meegan, a principal with project architect WSA Studio, called the Seneca “the worst building I’ve ever seen.”
“Twenty years of being unoccupied really took its toll,” he said.
The Seneca actually is three buildings: a 10-story tower, a four-story building and a two-story building. About 15,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space is planned, although only leasing offices are a sure bet.
Nick Zafares, Campus Apartments’ vice president of development and construction, said the company is negotiating with retail tenants, including a coffee shop for the main lobby.
It’s hoped that other shops will open around the Seneca.
“In two months, this whole Broad Street side will come to life,” he said.
Campus Apartments is counting on brisk business from the 32,000 students and faculty and staff members at nearby colleges and universities, including Capital University Law School, Columbus College of Art & Design, Columbus State Community College and Franklin University.
“This is clearly going to be one of Columbus’ next great neighborhoods,” said Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman.
Zafares said Campus Apartments’ goal is to lease 70 percent of the units to students, but that could change based on demand, perhaps from Grant Medical Center employees or other Downtown professionals.
“We think this product will have a little bit more of a conventional vocabulary than some of our other products,” Zafares said.
The units are generously sized for student use. A combination of studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom spaces is available, and units range from 427 square feet to 1,437 square feet. They offer marble-floored bathrooms, cherry kitchen cabinets and stainless-steel appliances.
All the windows are new, and the wood windows on the lower floors have been detailed to match the original building architecture.
Monthly rents will be $800 to $1,400.
Campus Apartments is considering what to do with a 5,000-square-foot space that fronts Grant Avenue south of the main lobby. Zafares said ideally a restaurant operator would lease it, but for now it will remain closed.
The space has a mezzanine overlooking the first floor and will be among the final pieces of the building to be renovated.
Campus Apartments also owns the old Ohio Deaf School, just down Grant Avenue. Zafares said financial arrangements to convert the school into apartments are not set.
“We’d like to revitalize the whole Grant Avenue corridor,” he said. “That’s why we bought the Seneca and the Deaf School. We feel we can make this area a part of the Downtown.”