Downtown’s PNC Tower reopens as Preston Centre with 100 apartments

The former PNC Tower on East Broad Street has reopened as Preston Centre, offering Downtown’s largest transformation yet of an office building into residences.

More than seven years in the making, the project involved converting floors 10 through 23 of the 24-story office tower into 105 apartments. Where desks, cubicles and office chairs once sat now stand bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms.

The transformation includes the new name, in honor of former Columbus Dispatch publisher Preston Wolfe, who was involved in getting the PNC tower built in 1976, coupled with the old English word preston, derived from “Priest’s Town,” suggesting a fully developed town.

“We built a mixed-use building here that has residential, office and retail and it’s right next to the church, so it’s kind of a modern-day vertical interpretation of a preston,” said Jeff Edwards, president and CEO of the project’s developer, The Edwards Companies.

The Edwards Companies bought the building in late 2016, after Jeff Edwards saw office towers in Chicago that had been converted into residential buildings.

Built in the form of six smaller towers, the PNC building lent itself to conversion because the upper levels of the taller towers offered a lot of window space. “It was the right building to try it on,” Edwards said.

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Developer Jeff Edwards discusses challenges of Preston Centre redesign

Developer Jeff Edwards discusses challenges of PNC tower redesign to Preston Centre, including sunken garden, walkway redesign to match NYC High Line

The finished product is a major addition to the city, said Amy Taylor, president of the Downtown Development Corp.

“It would be hard to overstate the significance of the transformation of the PNC Tower into Preston Centre because it marries all the things people tell us they want — mixed use, public art, more first floor experience,” Taylor said. “This takes the best examples of what Columbus and the rest of the country have done and implements them right in the heart of Downtown.”

Converting a 48-year-old office building into apartments comes with challenges. Floors needed to be fully reframed and new HVAC and plumbing lines had to be added. Edwards also removed a two-story glass lobby on Broad Street, replacing it with a sunken garden and two entrances, one to the office lobby of the building, the other to the apartment lobby.

While apartments are bright from the floor-to-ceiling windows, the building, like most other office high-rises, does not have working windows or balconies.

One challenge Edwards didn’t expect was the elevator. Residential use requires elevators large enough to accommodate a stretcher. None of the building’s elevators were that large, forcing Edwards to add a larger elevator in the shaft of two former elevators, adding about $7 million to the project’s cost.

Such expenses pushed up rents, which start at $2,320 for a 689-square-foot one-bedroom unit and $6,950 for a 1,995-square-foot three-bedroom apartment, not quite the most expensive apartment in town but close. (To help lease up, the building is offering two months free on a 14-month lease.)

Edwards expects the building’s amenities to help sell the apartments. The building has a luxurious lobby and club room that opens to the sunken garden, along with considerable co-working spaces, an expansive fitness center and on-site parking and storage.

When finished, the building is expected to include up to five restaurants and bars. Remaining phases to the project include:

  • Cameron Mitchell Restaurants continues to work on its Butcher & Rose steakhouse, expected to open in the summer.
  • Work has just begun converting the skywalk connecting Preston Centre to a parking lot on the other side of South 4th Street into an open-air landscaped walkway to be called Preston Park.
  • Edwards expects to submit final plans soon for the renovation of the Galleria portion of the property, on South 3rd Street, into an indoor-outdoor biergarten, tapas restaurant and speakeasy.
  • Edwards is seeking another restaurant tenant for the lower level of Preston Centre, below Butcher & Rose.
  • While not formally part of the Preston Centre project, Edwards is also building a 13-story, 164-apartment building at 195 E. Broad St. that is expected to open by the end of the year. The building will be connected by the skywalk and share some amenities with Preston Centre.
  • Edwards has also proposed a 12-story, 221-unit apartment building at 33 S. 4th St., immediately south of the Preston Centre.

Preston Centre isn’t the first Downtown office building to be converted into residences — earlier conversions include the LeVeque Tower and Citizens Savings and Trust Co. buildings — but with 105 apartments, it is the largest to date.

With office space still reeling from remote work, more conversions are on the way.

A Washington, D.C. company is converting the 26-story Continental Centre building at East Gay and North 4th streets into 409 apartments. Developers have also submitted plans to convert the 25-story Chase Tower at 3rd and E. Broad streets into 253 apartments, and to build 100 apartments in the upper floors of a former state office building at 145 S. Front St.

Late last month, Huntington Bank announced that it plans to sell three Downtown buildings to developers who would revamp the buildings, which would likely include at least some residences.

“The more ways we can look at converting space, the better off we’ll be,” Taylor said.

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@JimWeiker

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