When the chief operating officer of the company that owned Metro West said in March a buyer was interested in purchasing the troubled apartment complex located at 4312 Westport Road, Prairie Township Administrator Tracy Hatmaker was skeptical.
"They've said they had buyers before, and then the buyers were elusive," he said.
On Tuesday, April 29, Hatmaker and other West Side business and community leaders learned that the Romney Group, run by former presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his son, Josh, had purchased the 1,732-unit apartment complex from Wingate LLC of New York for an undisclosed price.
The Utah-based Romney Group invests in apartments, office buildings and industrial properties. It also owns and manages the Kingswood Court Apartments in Newark.
Anthon Stauffer, the Romney Group's director of acquisitions, said the plan by the firm's Havenwood Townhomes division is "to convert this property into one of the premier residential communities in west Columbus."
That was welcome news to Hatmaker, even though most of the units slated to be remodeled are in Franklin Township, not Prairie Township.
"We're all in this together," he said. "If their part is upgraded and the lots in Prairie are cleared, I think there's a lot more chance the area in our jurisdiction will benefit as well."
About half of the 1,732 units are in the process of being demolished at the behest of Prairie Township, which went to court to get the approval needed to knock down several buildings that were found to be structurally unsound and uninhabitable.
"We had been trying for years to get them to bring it into some form of compliance and get the units occupied," Hatmaker said.
Renovations on the remaining 856 townhomes will be completed in about two years, Stauffer said.
"We would like to keep all the current residents who have been consistently paying their rent," he said, noting that 380 units are occupied. "They will each have an opportunity to move into upgraded units as they become available."
Community leaders hope the sale and upgrades will increase the pace of development on the West Side that began with the opening of the $400 million Hollywood Casino Columbus in October 2012.
"The removal of that blight (of the apartments) is a positive and powerful influence for the area," said John Rosenberger, president of the Central Ohio Community Improvement Corp., a group that helps redevelop distressed properties.
The COCIC worked with the Romney Group on the purchase. It will receive a 2.5-acre parcel of the property along Georgesville Road that will be used for green space, as well as 7.1 acres in the center of the complex that it plans to redevelop.
Havenwood has a three-year option to purchase the larger plot of land from the COCIC.
West Side automobile dealer Chris Haydocy said he was pleased to see the property on the road to redevelopment.
"The Romney Group is a sophisticated group of investors," Haydocy said. "They've been here a number of times, and I'm thrilled they're a member of the community now."
The next big step in the revitalization of the area, he said, is an upgrade of the struggling Westland Mall just north of the apartment complex.
Columbus Dispatch reporter Earl Rinehart contributed to this story.