A Look at Five Office to Apartment Conversions in Ohio

As office vacancies rise, developers are targeting more downtown office buildings for conversion into residences. Office buildings in central business districts that have been mostly vacant since the pandemic might be obsolete as Class B or C offices, yet still have new life as potential apartment residences.

It is sometimes cheaper and quicker to convert office skyscrapers into apartments than to build a new, luxury apartment tower from the ground up. Conversions are typically 15% to 20% less expensive than new apartment buildings and with faster completion times, according to NAIOP. To address a shortage of housing, especially affordable housing, some cities and states across the country are offering tax breaks to developers to incentivize these conversions with a stipulation that a certain percentage of apartments be set aside at below-market prices. Developers wanting to repurpose older buildings are seeking historic tax credits to help defer the costs of rehabilitation, which might not be viable without the credits.

Here’s a look at five downtown office conversions that are planned or under construction in Ohio.

Continental Centre

The Bernstein Companies is planning to redevelop the Continental Centre office building in downtown Columbus, converting it into 409 apartments. The Washinton, DC-based developer purchased the 26-story tower at the corner of Gay and Fourth streets for nearly $12 million in 2021, the same year it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The modernist architectural style building was originally built in 1973 as the headquarters for Ohio Bell Southwestern, with the last business tenants departing during the pandemic. The nearly $108 million rehabilitation project, which began in early 2023, will retain historic features such as original windows and quartzite wall cladding on the interior. Floors five through 26 will be converted into a mix of studio, one- and two-bedroom units, except for part of the 24th floor which has as a historic conference room and bathroom that must be preserved. The lower floors will contain commercial space including some ground-floor retail. Other features include an amenity area with a pool on the rooftop, and a below-grade gym. The project has received a $10 million tax credit from the Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program. Redevelopment is scheduled to wrap up in 2nd quarter 2025.

Carew Tower

New York-based Victrix Investments purchased Carew Tower in downtown Cincinnati in August 2022 for $18 million with plans to convert the building’s office space into apartments. The 49-story building at 441 Vine St., which overlooks the Ohio River waterfront, was built in 1930 and was the tallest building in Cincinnati for 80 years until the completion of the Great American Tower at Queen City Square in 2010. Until 1960, Carew Tower was the home of the Mabley & Carew department store. The 824,000-square-foot Art Deco building was added to the register of National Historic Landmarks in 1994. In January 2024, the project received $4.25 million from Ohio’s Transformational Mixed-Use Development Program. The first three floors of Carew Tower would remain commercial space, while floors four through 44 will be converted into 385 residential units. Floors 45 and 46 would become amenity spaces. No work is proposed on the tower’s 47 or 48 floors. The interior of the attached Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza hotel will also remain untouched. The total cost of the renovations and conversion is estimated at roughly $175 million. The project is scheduled for completion in late 2025. Victrix is also working on converting the former Macy’s corporate headquarters building in downtown Cincinnati into 341 apartments. Construction on that project began in late 2023 and is also expected to complete by the end of 2025.

The Bell (45 Erieview Plaza)

In downtown Cleveland, Dallas-based Bluelofts is converting the former headquarters of Ohio Bell Telephone Co. (now known as AT&T Ohio) into 367 apartments. The 16-story office building, which was completed in 1983, has been vacant since October 2019, when AT&T moved out. The building, now dubbed The Bell, sits at 45 Erieview Plaza at the southeast corner of Lakeside Avenue and East 9th Street, next to the Galleria on the east side of downtown Cleveland. Bluelofts purchased the building in late 2021 for $36 million. The $102 million renovation project has received a $5 million tax credit from the Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program and a $15 million federal historic tax credit. The 545,000-square-foot building provides unobstructed views of Lake Erie and downtown Cleveland due to its curved façade. Residential levels will be on the third to 16th floor. A small, interior co-working space will be on each residential floor. The 15th floor will have an indoor community room that will open to an outdoor pool, hot tub and large patio. Most of the second floor will contain a data center with high-capacity digital connections. Ground-floor and basement spaces will offer retail, dining and entertainment options. Construction began in mid-2022 and is scheduled for completion later this year.

Centre City Building

A development team comprised of Cincinnati-based Model Group and Baltimore-based Cross Street Partners is planning to turn the Centre City building in downtown Dayton into 200 mixed-income apartments and roughly 50,000 square feet of commercial space. The Centre City Building (formerly known as the United Brethren Building) at South Main and East Fourth streets was built in 1904 as the headquarters of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ Christian denomination. Originally 14 stories, a seven-story tower was completed in 1924, capped by a chapel for the Church, making it 21 stories. It was the tallest building in Dayton from 1904 until 1931. The Chicago Commercial style building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993 and has been vacant since 2012. The building is part of the Dayton Arcade District redevelopment, a collection of nine buildings totaling over 500,000 square feet, by the same developers. Plans for the $91.9 million phase of the Centre City project include 200 mixed-income apartments and up to 53,000 square feet of retail and office space on the first, second and third floors. The project has received $8 million in tax credits from the Transformational Mixed-Use Development Program and awarded $5 million from the Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program. A construction timeline has yet to be released.

Akron Beacon Journal Building

In December 2023, Akron developer Tony Troppe received approval for $5.3 million in Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits for the redevelopment of the Akron Beacon Journal (ABJ) building in downtown Akron. In addition, the project is expected to receive nearly $6.4 million from the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives Program. The building is at the corner of East Exchange and South High streets, just a few blocks west of the University of Akron which had a fall 2023 enrollment of roughly 15,000 students. The three-story ABJ building was built in 1930, with additions in 1954 and 1985 taking it to a total of 230,000 square feet. The Art Deco building was originally home of the Akron Times-Press. The ABJ acquired a majority in that paper and moved into the building in 1938. In 2019, the newspaper moved to another location leaving the building vacant. Plans for the redevelopment project include 197 new residential units, offices, plus retail and restaurant spaces. A new 71,785-square-foot building is also planned for the south side of the original building. Some sections of the 1954 and 1985 additions will be removed, while the iconic clock tower will be preserved. The entire cost of the project is estimated at just over $54 million. While all the financing for the entire project is in place, a construction timeline has not been announced.