Largely vacant for over 30 years, the Edna Building in the King-Lincoln District could see new tenants by as soon as the end of the calendar year.
Located at 879 E. Long St., the three-story brick structure is now in the hands of local firm Tim Lai ArchitecT who will transform the 100 plus year old building for office and restaurant use. Firm Founders Tim Lai and Eliza Ho will be bringing another local business along for the renovation – restaurateurs A&R Creative Group.
The two businesses are frequent partners. The couple worked with A&R on the rooftop garden at The Crest in Clintonville and has been collaborating ever since on the group’s restaurant spaces including The Market Italian Village, The Crest on Parsons, TRISM, Alchemy and more.
Lai says there’s a very strong synergy between the brands. Both are focused on bringing something new, something different, to their adopted city of Columbus. Lai and Ho are from Hong Kong while founders of A&R were born in Lebanon.
“Being an architect and a designer to have a client who are so committed to creating the best design possible, it’s very very, rare – especially small business owners,” Lai says. “They may want the place to look great but they don’t necessarily understand what it takes to do that, or the patience it takes to do that.”
A&R understands, pushing the design, with Lai’s firm able to answer the call with attention to detail in unique and creative layouts.
For the Eda Building, they’ll be designing something for themselves. Tim Lai ArchitecT will move their offices from 400 West Rich in Franklinton to the second floor of the Edna Building, while A&R’s offices will occupy the third. Plans are still coming together for the ground floor but food is definitely on the menu, with A&R involved in the process.
A series of coincidences will put the two successful businesses on the map in the King-Lincoln District. Lai found the property through the Columbus Land Bank. Typically a list of residential properties, the commercial structure caught his eye and he thought it would be a great space for one of their clients: A&R Creative group.
After an initial ambitious plan to create an indoor greenhouse-type space was limited by the size of the structure, the architecture firm took the lead on the project.
Lai and Ho have studied the history of the building constructed in 1905 extensively and look to maintain its character.
“I’m always interested in that juxtaposition between the historic structure that is there and then to inject something that is clearly new and contemporary,” Lai says.
They’ll preserve much of the exterior, including the ‘Edna’ that adorns the facade. Originally the duo looked into getting the building on National Register of Historic Places. However, Lai says that when they got to the design phase, it was difficult to adapt the use of the building to realize their plans while maintaining the guidelines of the National Register.
Instead, they will maintain structural elements and remove decades old plaster to reveal the building’s interior brick walls. They’ll also create a two-story space that will span the second and third floor and be highlighted as an amenity to bring the community into the building. Lai wants the neighborhood to use the space for meetings, events, presentations and more.
Plans for the building are working their way through re-zoning. Lai hopes that construction will start in May or June of 2018 for completion by the end of the year. It’s an aggressive timeline, but, “We have to deal with existing structures all the time,” he says.
Most of the couple’s projects are “commercial interior architecture” as Lai coins it. They’ll be gutting the interior of the Edna Building, largely eliminating any issues that might arise minus structural factors.
The Edna Building will add to an influx of businesses and projects flanking for Long Street just east of Downtown. Retailers like Spencer’s Influence and Studio V have set up shop, as well as the second location for Equitas Health’s medical center and social enterprise pharmacy. Borror Development has also been selected as the developer for a prominent one-acre site that will likely see a mix of residential and retail use.
“This will be a tremendous complement to our existing Long St. business community and serves as a wonderful catalyst to future re-development,” says David Cofer, executive director of PACT, a partnership organization working to build a healthy, financially and environmentally sustainable community on the Near East Side.
Cofer says the project aligns with PACT’s Blueprint for Community Investment for the Long Street corridor. He’s also excited to see a structure repurposed.
“The project proposes the adaptive re-use of an existing asset in our community,” Cofer says. “This is always a good thing.”
Lai and Ho credit the community for saving the building. Given its history, as well as that of the neighborhood, “We feel a fairly strong responsibility to do the best we can to create something the neighborhood can be proud of, and be part of the improvement in the next five ten years,” Lai says.
Built by milliner sisters in 1905, the Edna Building was traditionally occupied by ground floor retail and tenants in four apartments on the second and third floors. Research commissioned by Lai and Ho found a number of retail tenants cycled through the storefronts in the 1910s and 1920s. As segregation early in the century began to push Columbus’ African American community eastward, the Edna Building played a pivotal role in the black community, housing social clubs and newspapers that were started as a direct alternative to segregated white institutions. The building housed African American newspaper The Ohio Sentinel in the 50s, as well as social organization the Dukes Club.
For more information, visit laiarchitect.com.
All renderings provided by Tim Lai ArchitecT.