A new lease on life: Ulrich Block Building enjoying a stylish resurrection with renovation

Commercial Realtor Randy Scheidt stepped back along the Fourth Street sidewalk to visually take in the Ulrich Block Building, the oldest commercial structure in Columbus, according to records.

Then a satisfied smile slowly spread across his face. And one hardly could blame him. A two-year project with Scheidt and partner Scott Owens, both of R&S Landmarks, to refurbish the 8,800-square-foot structure will be complete by month’s end amid what the owners carefully term “a sizable investment” while demurring on the full price tag. The building, a long-ago former bakery and meat market that Scheidt acknowledged was in danger of nearly falling down along the Franklin Street side in 1984, now stands proudly. Parts of it date from 1850 through 1891.

“The dream is coming true,” Scheidt said.

Wide-eyed tenants are preparing to move into four new, second-floor apartments, one and two-bedroom units with features such as trendy, exposed brick walls, brightly stylish quartz kitchen countertops, one suite with an expansive, oversized deck, and all units with some element of restored, floor-to-ceiling period windows that make most spaces seem larger than reality.

Plus, the local Driftwood Builders Inc. has made sure that all units include such cutting-edge features as special, layered, sound-absorbing flooring, so as not to disturb downstairs offices.

The Ulrich structure is significant enough to the area’s past to have been featured in the 2021 coffee table volume “Bartholomew County: Celebrating 200 Years.” And it is significant enough to the city’s future to be situated in the heart of a downtown that city leaders are pushing to revitalize.

The building also figured prominently in one of last year’s area bicentennial events highlighting Bartholomew County’s history when a 3D-style video was creatively projected onto multiple windows of the Ulrich Block Building.

And the edifice has caught the attention of the Indianapolis-based preservation agency Indiana Landmarks.

“I’ve always had quite the penchant for commercial Italianate architecture, this being a very fine example,” said Joshua Biggs, community preservation specialist with Indiana Landmarks, in a note to Scheidt last year.

Designer Bruce Pollert, known for his selective tastes, became the first new tenant in those downstairs spaces. Flower boxes overflowing with colorful periwinkle welcome customers to his Fourth Street entrance.

“This provides a whole different perspective,” Pollert said of the total, overall work. “There certainly are some beautiful views upstairs.”

Pollert fell in love with his downstairs space, a former law office, the minute he saw it — even though it required the most restoration work of any of the business suites. He even got an artsy, elevated ceiling in the entryway before he moved in.

“I was immediately picturing everything that we would do with the space,” Pollert said about his downsizing from a larger, downtown office.

Same for Scheidt and Owens when they began the project on the building last substantially updated in 1984.

“We really needed to re-imagine this building,” Scheidt said. “We had to gut parts of it. And after we completed the first floor, we figured we had to do something equal to all that work, if not better, on the second floor (which was formerly offices).”

He, Owens and their team have done so with equal parts passion and flair — and practicality, too, since the entire electrical system is getting an upgrade, too — required because of the second-level change to apartments.

The first renter to sign a lease on a one-bedroom unit is a Midwestern native and new Columbus resident wowed by the huge deck and partly by the idea of being amid the city’s finer architecture, including nearby First Christian Church.

“I definitely will utilize such a nice, outdoor space,” he said.

Another, renter, Tony Mellinger of Wildwood Housing, is putting two traveling professionals in two of the other units as part of its missi0n to provide housing to traveling business people.

“When the apartments in the Ulrich (Block) Building came available, we knew they were the exactly what we were looking for and they would be able to provide that historic downtown experience,” Mellinger said. “The apartments have had a fantastic remodel and are they are definitely a one-of-a-kind space in Columbus.”

The building restoration is precisely the kind of thing that Richard McCoy, executive director of the Landmark Columbus Foundation, has championed: building owners shifting gears and holding onto the past while making enough changes to promote future progress.

Scheidt acknowledged that this effort is maybe his most meaningful, long-term project amid all his commercial commitment.

“For Scott and I to have remained connected to the same building (leasing and managing) since 1984 — you have to understand that that’s kind of unheard of in this business,” Scheidt said. “I was born here, and raised to be willing to give back for the sake of others.

“I once operated five different offices (in different cities). But this — this is home.”

And this building? Like he said right at the top, a realization of a dream come true.

A bit of history

The Ulrich Block building has always had commercial use. It has been home to numerous businesses and four bakeries. Shortly after Frederick Ulrich bought the property in 1856, he started his own bakery, where he was tasked with baking bread for the Union Army during the Civil War.

— from ulrichblockcolumbusin.com