Michael Schiff Checks the Urban Pulse of Columbus – Part 1
Michael Schiff, Principal of Schiff Capital Group, is involved in so many projects in the Short North and downtown that it is sometimes hard to keep track. A partial list includes Parkside on Pearl in Italian Village, Hubbard Park Place and Aston Place Apartments in Victorian Village, Trotter’s Gate in Harrison West, and the Atlas Building and Leveque Tower renovations downtown.
With all of these projects in various stages of development, we thought now would be a great time to sit down with Schiff to discuss them. Apart from updating us on these ongoing developments – and breaking some news about future plans – Schiff also shared his thoughts on a wide range of topics, from development trends in the Short North and downtown to hot-button issues like parking and transit.
This interview is the first in a series – look for more in the near future from developers and others who are shaping the Short North.
Q: Can you talk a little about your background in real estate and when you started to see the potential of the Short North?
A: I worked for Schottenstein Property Group for almost 25 years, right out of law school. About four years ago I decided to go on my own and start Schiff Capital Group – it’s funny, there was an article that Business First wrote about me leaving Schottenstein – if you look at that article, it says that I really wanted to focus on the urban, and the High Street corridor, and particularly the Short North.
I spent a lot of time in New York City doing business, I handled a lot of the real estate there for the Schottensteins in all their different divisions. I like it in New York, and I really kind of got the itch and the addiction to the pulse. When I would go hang out in the Short North – I own High Street Denim and would go there a lot – even four, five years ago, you could feel that the pulse was coming. It was just starting, but it was coming. Thank God I guessed right, and was a little lucky, but I felt that it was going to develop into what it is.
If you look at the Short North today, it’s very strong, but in three to five years it will be ten times better than what it is today. There’s so much action there, and so much more action to come. There was not really much great new housing, in terms of quality apartments, but now you have six or seven new developments. In fact, we just finished Aston Place – we have 59 apartments and 56 are already rented, which is pretty impressive, and is a statement on the area. And then if you look at the Aston Row townhomes, which are for sale, the first ten are midway through construction and six are in contract already. And that’s at numbers way over what we thought we were going to get… the average price is about $470,000.
I was excited about the Short North then, and I really focused on it; I had control of that Ibiza site for a minute, but at the same time I was working on a deal to buy these five parcels from Richard Bruggeman. I bought a package deal from him, that I worked on over two years… talking with him, working with him. But when I put together the deal, that’s when I went to the Wood Companies, because I figured they’re so established, and credible and reputable in the Short North it would be good to partner with them.
So I got those parcels all tied up; the Two Fish building at Buttles and High, the lot behind Axis and Hubbard Grille, the lot behind Haiku next to Italian Village Park, and the La Fogata building. Also,we hope to be able to at some point buy that parking lot just south of the Two Fish building, it’s owned by the city. The lot has an easement, because the owner of the Two Fish building gives a 30 foot easement to the city for the parking lot. Technically, we’re the only logical buyer cause those 30 feet reverts back to us if they sell it. So our goal is to eventually buy that and build a nice building there too, something that would have retail, office and apartments.
Q: I noticed that you did that with Hubbard Park Place – a mix of office, retail and apartments.
A: Yeah, we think we have that one fined-tuned to the point where next time we go to the Victorian Village we hope we will get it approved. I think that’ll be a great place to live in the Short North – you’re kind of nestled away in a neighborhood feel, but you’re only a half-block from the action.
Q: That mix – do think that’s going to be the standard for future projects?
A: I think on High Street, you have to have retail, and I also think there may be a future for two stories of retail on High Street in the Short North area, because the demand for the retail is becoming so strong there. If I were going to develop or redevelop a building on High Street, I would consider doing two levels of retail. There’s that much demand and it’s that hot, in my opinion.
Q: One thing I wanted to ask you about is the parking issue in the Short North, and you mention two floors of retail — will we need to find parking for all the people going to that store?
A: Well, first of all, every deal that I’m working on in the Short North has self-contained parking, because we respect those concerns and are sensitive to the parking situation in the Short North. This creates a lot of expense, especially on small footprints, but it’s the right thing to do. And at the same time, though, there was a great letter to the editor by Cleve Ricksecker in the Dispatch – about the fact that having a “parking problem” in an urban area – it’s really a good thing in a way, too. Granted, we want to do whatever we can to add parking and provide parking and increase the parking, because it makes life easier for everybody, but when you have a very very hot urban area, its hard to have parking for everybody.
Q: CU readers follow all of the ideas for new transportation options in Columbus, whether that’s the street car proposal, light rail, or other ideas. What are your thoughts on bringing that kind of thing to the neighborhood?
A: Well, you know they have this new bus line that runs for free from German Village to the Short North, so that will be a good indicator of things. But it’s also all cost benefit analysis. It’s extremely expensive to put those things in — but we’re a pretty strong fiscal city, and the mayor does a great job on that, so if it makes economic sense, it’d be great to have, obviously. It would alleviate the parking problem, really. And it’d be very cool, it would take our city to a whole other level.