The new apartment/retail project in a 116-year-old downtown Columbus building has yet to be given a name.
But more than four years after Chris Chain and a partner purchased the old Stone Hotel on the 200 block Fifth Street with a plan to create a boutique hotel with retail shops, the project is fairly flying toward completion now.
Call it The Rolling Stone.
“We expect to be finished in six months,” the longtime Columbus developer said Wednesday while providing media tours of the project.
After purchasing the property from Susan McKay, whose family had owned the building for more than 70 years, Chain has a new partner, a new plan and a new aggressive timetable for the project, one that should make the 28,000 square feet of space available at the beginning of 2022.
“I wouldn’t wait too long if anybody out there is interested,” said Bill Legier, owner of New Orleans-based De la Tour Holding, which is partnering with Chain to develop the property.
“We expect these spots to fill up fast, especially the apartments,” Legier said.
The new plan will feature 18 apartments and 8,000 square feet of retail space, along with an atrium/colonnade, New Orleans-style courtyards, an elevator for access to upstairs apartments and a gym/fitness center.
The COVID-19 pandemic altered Chain’s original plan to build a boutique hotel.
“This whole journey started when I bought the property and asked Tommy Howard if he wanted to go in with me on it,” Chain said. “The idea was to bring the building back as close as its original condition as possible, using state and federal tax credits available for historic preservation projects, something I’ve done in the past. Then COVID hit, and we found out that banks weren’t interested in financing hotels. Time rocked on and Tommy kind of lost interest because he was looking at different projects. When I started looking for a new partner, I talked to Mr. Legier. That was probably around the first of the year.”
The timing couldn’t have been better as far as Legier was concerned.
“He asked me if there were any tax credits around,” Chain said. “I told him, I’ve got one right here in Columbus.”
Legier and Chain had worked together on similar projects in the French Quarter and on the Mississippi coast.
“I needed the tax credits and the investment this year and it had to be something that could be finished this year to get the credits,” Legier said. “You can’t expect to start a project in January and get all the approvals from the federal and state government in a short period of time. Well, Chris already had the approvals. That made this the ideal project.”
Legier said the project will cost about $4 million.
Instead of the hotel/retail plan, the plan calls for 18 apartments, including three on the ground floor. The ground-floor apartments required a special permit from the city for a C-2 commercial zone, which was approved unanimously by the city council during its Tuesday meeting.
The ground floor will provide 8,000 square feet in retail space, which can be devoted to small startups with as little as 400 square feet or larger retailers. Chain said the retail space can be adjusted to suit the tenant.
Although no tenants have committed, Legier said he could envision some of the retail space devoted to a neighborhood market or a restaurant.
Chain said he expects the apartments to go quickly.
Main Street Columbus Director Barbara Bigelow concurs.
“Right now, we have 184 apartments downtown and the occupancy rate is in the 90-percent range, maybe even higher,” Bigelow said. “Some even have waiting lists. So we’re nowhere near the saturation point. I expect these apartments will be rented as soon as they are available.”
Chain said the pivot from hotel to apartments was not difficult.
“It doesn’t really change our plans that much,” he said. “We’re just going from short-term to long-term.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]