“I love the possibility of revitalizing these old properties and keeping them around,” developer Chris Chain told the Columbus Exchange Club Thursday afternoon. “(The buildings are) our heritage.”
Chain, president of Renovations of Mississippi, has left a huge impact on downtown Columbus over the years. Currently he is working to turn buildings on the 200 block of Fifth Street South that once housed old hotels into a mixed use development.
Chain bought the site from Susan MacKay, whose family had owned it for more than 70 years, in 2016. Originally slated to become a boutique hotel, it will now house a mixture of apartments and retail spaces, along with a gym.
Although he hoped to finish the project by this month, he said it is about 75-percent complete now.
“We got started in mid-June, and then COVID hit really hard in those summer months,” he said. “I lost about three crews (of five or six people) to COVID. I’ve lost two more in the last two weeks because of this. You lose them for 10 days, and then you’ve lost that time.”
Supply chain shortages and cost increases have also been an obstacle.
“When we first started, a piece of plywood was $36 and it went to $98,” he said. “I had to have 300 sheets of it, probably. Then you’ve got to find it.”
When a big freeze hit Texas in February 2021, it affected a major plant that produced the glue necessary to make plywood, further crunching the supply.
“We had a big supply shortage of all materials in the past six months, and it doesn’t look like it’s getting any better,” he said. “I ordered windows about three months ago, and they said they would be here two months ago. Due to the glass shortage, it’s going to be at least another month to get the windows. What do you do? It’s just a crazy world right now.”
He said he hopes to have the project complete within 60 days. The construction work is done, and he is well into the finishing phase.
“We’re finishing apartments and painting right now,” he said. “We’re finishing floors. We’ll be putting in cabinets in a couple of weeks, and the elevator is going in next week. The balcony is coming in the next two weeks.”
Crews are working as fast as possible, he said, but the scale of the work was unexpected.
“I have to say the building was a lot worse than I thought it was,” Chain said. “I take on the worst of the worst, and this building was bad.”
Once complete, the site will include 18 apartments, including efficiency, single- and two-bedroom models, nine retail spaces and a small gym, he said.
Three apartments on the bottom floor will have patios, and one of the apartments upstairs will have a balcony facing Fifth Street.
Leases have been signed on eight apartments already, he said.
“It’s going to be a gem when we get it done; it will really set that end of the district off,” Chain said. “… You’ll be able to walk in off of (Fifth Street) and walk through the retail spaces and then on out the back. It’ll be kind of like an indoor mall.”
The buildings, which are adjacent, were built in 1905. They were originally The Stone Hotel and The Arcade Hotel. In the 1940s MacKay’s family bought them, and they housed a variety of businesses ranging from Price’s Auto Parts to Kwik Kopy and Party and Paper.