When Matt Lutz moved into his historic Dutch Colonial home in Franklin Park in 2002, a look down the street gave a disturbing picture: vacant houses in disrepair, drug dealers standing on the corner, a gang taking up residence in one of the homes.
The classic architecture brought him to the neighborhood – a Dutch Colonial next to a Craftsman next to a Victorian – a literal showcase of historic styles. But the surrounding area led him to take action to make an impact on the neighborhood.
He started buying affordable, mid-sized homes in the area (about 1,200 – 1,500 square feet), fixing them up and renting them out.
“We found we could kind of change our neighborhood for the better by just fixing the places up, making them clean and attractive, and we were able to get a lot higher quality of tenant,” Lutz says.
Scooping up some 20 properties in the area, he’s seen the neighborhood change. Franklin Park offers a close proximity to Downtown and Bexley, great parks nearby, “We already have amazing amenities, the main thing we are missing over here now are the small businesses that haven’t come back yet,” Lutz says.
He’s taking control of that too, purchasing his first commercial property in the neighborhood at 1485 Oak St.
“This building is a big step up for us in complexity and difficulty,” Lutz says.
The ‘us’ he is referring to are his parents, Denny and Alberta. The parents thought they had retired, but found second careers in helping Lutz flip and maintain properties in the neighborhood.
“You name it, we can do it,” Alberta says.
Talking to contractors, taking meetings, making sure things get fixed, “I wouldn’t be able to do this without my mom and dad being retired,” Lutz says, balancing a full-time career as the chief development officer and general counsel of the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation.
Lutz bought the Oak Street building a few years ago and has slowly been making the major renovations necessary to give it new life. With the help of neighborhood architect Fred Hutchison, the 3,000 square foot building is being converted into a ground floor restaurant space and offices or apartments on the second floor.
There are restaurants hopping down Oak Street, but nothing in close proximity to this corner of Franklin Park.
“These buildings are few and far between – the ones that would make a good restaurant and they are in good enough condition to use,” Lutz says.
He’s currently looking for a restaurateur to fill the space, specifically something with a neighborhood tavern kind of feel that would have a general appeal to a large audience. He’s had inquiries from coffee shops and bakeries, “That’s a great second tenant,” Lutz says. “I would love to have a coffee shop next door or in one of these other buildings, but right now the critical need we have, if you live in one of theses houses and you want to walk to get your dinner, you can’t.”
The approximately 1,500 square foot ground floor will be built out to a warm finish by mid-May and Lutz would like to see an eatery in the space as soon as possible. Some lighting will be in place, bathrooms plumbed in, HVAC installed, and flexibility for the proprietor with the kitchen space.
“We’re going basically as far as we can go without knowing who our restaurateur is,” Lutz says.
Zoning approval also includes 10 feet of outdoor space that can be used as a patio.
The second floor will be converted into two units that will serve as offices or apartments, with zoning in place for either.
“We’ll see if there’s a market for office because we don’t have much office space in the neighborhood either,” Lutz says.
He hopes this is the first of more commercial properties to dot the area. As more momentum builds on the east side of Downtown, from Olde Towne East to Franklin Park, he envisions a neighborhood like areas off High Street in the Short North – residential with pockets of businesses to walk to.
For more information on the restaurant space and specifications, visit 1485oak.com.