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1800s building getting new life as apartment complex


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John and Andrew Counceller, a father-and-son development team, plan to bring as many as 45 apartments into the underused Lincoln-Orinoco Furniture Co. building on 17th Street.

Their five-year master plan calls for turning 100 percent of the light industrial building — now largely used for storage — into apartments that will rent for $600 to $800 a month, both men said this week.

The Councellers said they intend to proceed slowly, tackling a few apartments at a time until they’re done at the end of this decade.

The two men said they’ll eventually tackle rehabilitation of bigger chunks of the wood-and-brick structure, focusing on the upper floors at first. The Councellers plan to finance construction out of available cash over time rather than trying to tap bank financing.

Part of the building, which dates to the late 1800s, has two stories and one wing has three stories.

The Councellers have owned the building for more than 20 years but have watched in recent years as longer-term tenants trickled away during the most recent recession.

“The upper floors have been difficult to lease,” John Counceller said. “We can take some sections and build 10 or 12 apartments there fairly easily.”

Renovating the rear portion of the building will be trickier, though, requiring part of the structure to be demolished to allow for adequate landscaping and other features.

The nearly 60,000-square-foot building, at 1720 17th St., has a colorful history. It was used to make munitions during World War II, and it housed a series of furniture makers for half a century before that.

Orinoco Furniture Co. started in the building around 1890, making desks, tables and other products. Lincoln Chair Co. started operations there in 1913, and the combined companies flourished until the Great Depression.

In 1928, the building housed 600 workers, according to historical records for Bartholomew County.

Andrew Counceller said Columbus needs more rental properties for middle- to lower-income residents, and the Orinoco building will fit that niche.

“We won’t compete with the Cole,” he said, referring to a downtown luxury apartment project that commands rents higher than $1,100 per month on some units.

Columbus has adequate rental properties for upper-income tenants, but not enough in moderate price ranges, Andrew Counceller said.

The Councellers have yet to do architectural drawings or other detailed construction plans for the project.

They already have won city approval to rezone the 1.6-acre property as commercial, community center, through the Columbus City Council and Board of Zoning Appeals.

John Counceller said the broad zoning category opens up the building for residential use, which matches much of the surrounding neighborhood around 17th Street near Central Avenue.

The city’s zoning staff said many single-family homes nearby have been converted into multifamily apartments, and revamping the Orinoco building to a similar use would fit with the neighborhood.

The staff also suggested that revitalizing the building would improve the overall real estate market and boost property values in the area.

No work will start on the project until 2015, Andrew Counceller said.

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