Alternative plans: Fifth Street businesses scramble to find office space in wake of fire

Businesses and organizations displaced after a fire swept through the Irwin Block building on Fifth Street late Saturday night were searching for new office space on Monday, or working from home.

The two buildings, located in the 400 block of Fifth Street, are owned by Jayne Hege and her sisters. Crossroads Association of Realtors, where she works, is located there. It had smoke and water damage from the fire, as did other nearby businesses.

On the other hand, Hege said that the battered appearance of the west building “speaks for itself” in terms of catastrophic damage. Columbus firefighters said Monday it is likely that the 422 Fifth St. building will have to be demolished due to the extensive damage and the unstable building.

One individual, Sarah Wells, launched a crowdfunding campaign on Sunday to support three photography businesses who have lost their studio spaces due to the fire: Luminosity Studio, Lauren Kirts Photography and Marinda Fowler Studios. The campaign seeks to raise $15,000; so far, over $4,000 has been donated. The effort can be found at gofundme.com and is titled “Irwin Building – Photographers Fire Support.”

“Due to the large-scale nature of the fire, the investigation, and other circumstances, the payout from insurance companies may not come for several months,” wrote Wells. “Our goal with this fundraiser is to raise money to distribute evenly between the three photographers so that they can replace items/equipment lost, seek out new studio spaces, and take a little stress away from them during this holiday season.”

Bailey & Wood Mortgage Lender, which has a Columbus branch located at 426 Fifth St., is also expected to relocate.

According to founder Mike Wood, most employees from the branch are working remotely, and one is operating out of Seymour. There is also the possibility that some may work out of the company’s Whiteland location.

“I have yet to be down there to see it in person, but the pictures that have been sent to me, it looks like when the ceiling collapsed from the top part that between the water, the smoke, the fire damage, it’s a complete loss,” he said.

Wood said he believes the office equipment has been destroyed as well. He guessed that the personal property loss to the company might be about $80,000 to $90,000 range.

In light of the damages, Bailey & Wood will work on finding a new location in Columbus, with Wood noting that they were already considering an expansion prior to the fire.

Arnholt & Staggs Law Office at 422 Fifth St. has shared on social media that they will likely seek new office space as well.

Tim Staggs wrote on his personal page that it was unclear, as of Sunday evening, how severely their office were damaged. He added that the business is concerned about its office cat, “Prila/Ginsburg.”

“Many of you have asked about her today and I, sadly, cannot say whether she might have escaped or somehow survived,” he wrote. “She is not the cat mentioned in the article below – that was a cat in another office and we are so grateful that one made it out alive. Debbie has scouted the neighborhood a couple of times today searching for Prila, shaking a bottle of her favorite treats and letting people know that she may, if we are very lucky, be hiding in a nearby bush somewhere. So far, no luck in spotting our long-haired calico mascot, but we continue to hope she beat the odds.”

On Monday, Spurgeon was waiting for a Columbus firefighter at the building to make a check of the law office, carrying a box of Prila’s favorite treats and hoping the 14-year-old cat had survived.

As for the east building, Katia Hatter with TD Advertising, 442 Fifth St., posted on social media that her office sustained a great deal of water damage, and the building was “very smoky” when staff visited it briefly to remove some of their belongings. She added that the business is shifting to remote work for the time being.

Sarah Harrison, owner and operator at Massage Oasis — also located at 442 Fifth St. — posted on Sunday morning that while their building is believed to be free of fire damage, water damage may be an issue.

The Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, located at 500 Franklin St., shared while its offices were not damaged by the fire, they did sustain “isolated water damage and extensive smoke damage.”

“There’s a lot of unknowns, but we are making some contingency plans to keep our work going, albeit in another location,” said Chamber President Cindy Frey. She added that while the chamber “absolutely” hopes to return to its Franklin Street offices, it’s estimated that it will be about three months before they are able to do so.

Staff are currently working remotely and will do so until the chamber finds a temporary space to “co-locate.” They were able to utilize the Propeller makerspace to have some meetings on Monday and have had several offers from local businesses in regards to spaces they might utilize.

“We are overwhelmed by the generosity and the care that our community is showing to us,” said Frey. “We talk a lot about the Columbus Way, but what we see is that this is a community that cares. And we are so, so grateful for that.”

She added that the chamber’s board and staff agree that it’s important to have a “visible location in downtown Columbus.”

The chamber does not seem to have any personal property damage. They’ve also been able to recover some property from other organizations and individuals that are hosted in chamber offices, such as the Small Business Development Center, SCORE, Dan Nash with Velocities, and tenants in the chamber’s “Fish Tank” space.

Frey expects these entities to be “back in business” soon, albeit remotely as the chamber figures out its plans.

“Right now, I probably have more questions than answers,” she admitted. “But that’s where we are. And we know that this is just temporary. It’s a little bit of a distraction, that’s all.”

The Greater Columbus Economic Development Corp. (EDC), located at 440 Fifth St., is in a similar boat. President Jason Hester said that the office has smoke and water damage, with the latter primarily limited to standing water on the floor. This is likely to have caused some damage to property such as furniture. Electronic devices and computers are believed to be unharmed but are still being tested.

It’s estimated that they’ll be unable to use the offices for three to six months, depending on the status of the neighboring building. One concern in particular is a wall that is still standing.

“We’ve got to figure out how stable that is or isn’t,” said Hester. “… If it falls to the east, then that’s coming into TD Advertising space, which is right overhead of our space.”

EDC staff are working remotely, and the organization is looking for a temporary location to move to. Hester said that they’re coordinating with the chamber on this and may choose to locate in the same space or go different routes.

He added that they’ve likewise received an “outpouring of support” and offers of space from the business community.

And, like the chamber, the EDC hopes to eventually return to its offices.

“We love being downtown, and it’s been a great location for us,” said Hester. “… That would certainly be our hope, but time will tell. I’m just not sure.”