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Business & Economy

Builders adjust to higher-end tastes of Ohio State students

High-end student apartments like Wilson Place (left) have popped up along High Street. This building sits across the street from some of Ohio State's newest residence halls on north campus.
Nick Houser
High-end student apartments like Wilson Place (left) have popped up along High Street. This building sits across the street from some of Ohio State's newest residence halls on north campus.

Builders and developers are busy around the Ohio State University campus as new apartments complete with retail and parking are popping up like flowers in Spring. The trends here reflect a nationwide shift in students’ housing tastes.

Take a quick drive around the campus area and you'll see students walking, biking or scootering to and from classes to their dorms and apartments, but over the years the landscape at the state's flagship university has drastically changed.

Dave Issacs is the spokesperson for The Ohio State University Office of Students Life and describes student housing in and around the university as the tale of two cities.

“Someone coming back to the Ohio State campus who hasn't been here for a while is going to notice some areas where virtually nothing has changed. If you stand on the Oval and look around, it looks exactly like it's looked for generations. There are other parts of campus where there have been a lot of changes and a lot of construction and will look far different than it did in past years,“ Issacs said.

Dorms built within the last 10 years and others that have undergone major renovation in the northern part of campus boast larger open group study spaces, big windows and are filled with more modern amenities.

“If you had been on north campus years ago, you wouldn't recognize it now. It looks very, very different,“ he said.

The need for newer, bigger and more modern digs has taken a whole new meaning in a lot of the privately-owned housing on and directly around campus. Ryan Szymanski, a partner with Avenue Partners Development Company, has been helping draw up housing plans on and around the OSU corridor for more than 10 years.

“So, I guess I would say you've seen a trend both at OSU and nationally for secured housing. That is newer, modern amenities, or private living space", said Szymanski, an OSU grad with a degree in mechanical engineering and an MBA.

He said this trend got its start at many of the larger southern universities long before catching on here in the midwest.

“I've said this many times before that OSU was behind the curve in terms of its housing. I mean, we looked at markets in the south, they were ahead of the curve and had more of these projects built well, prior to Ohio, and OSU is just kind of catching up on that curve, “ he said.

Szymanski's Avenue Partners is currently working on a multi-story building off North High street and W. 8th Avenue slated to have more than 140 apartments, with attached retail and parking. He said many of these changes have simply been motivated out of demand.

“And as the university grew, the only way to stop the sprawl going out into the neighborhoods is to build density closer, and I think, as the university has grown and continues to grow, that need for housing close, has grown as well, “ Szymanski said.

All that growth in housing has fueled business and development up and down High Street. Amanda Hoffsis is with Campus Partners, a partnership between the university, the city of Columbus and several neighborhood groups. She said a one multi-million dollar project in particular really got the ball rolling.

“Gateway kind of set a new bar on High Street. That really was the goal. There was a lot of buildings that were pretty rundown in the 90s, when campus partners first got started," Hoffsis said.

The goal of Campus Partners is to improve the University District neighborhoods that many college students call home along side long-time Columbus residents. Twenty percent of OSU students live in housing in nearby Weinland Park. A neighborhood that made national news for its improvements.

“It was a portfolio that had the highest amount of rental turnover before our work there. And through the work of us and several other partners in the area it's now one of the portfolios of choice", said Amanda Hoffsis, who is also an OSU grad.

Ryan Szymanski said the bottom-line housing like many other economic indicators often follows national trends and that is exactly what is happening in and around OSU.

“Housing has gone more upscale, as more people have grown up with their own bedrooms. But, you know, safety and security is a big part of that as well. Having secured parking. These buildings provide that, and then in terms of having your own space, you have your own private bathroom. I think it is something that, for right or wrong, more and more people grow up having that and so they are get accustomed to that and want that,” said Szymanski.

And since they are accustomed to having a certain lifestyle, they come to college and want it here too. So, builders and developers like Avenue say they aim to please.

Williams was a reporter for WOSU. Natasha is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and has more than 20 years of television news and radio experience.