Northland community leaders say they are thrilled with Huntington Bancshares' announcement last week that it plans to remodel a vacant Meijer store into an office that will open next year with 1,400 employees.

Northland community leaders say they are thrilled with Huntington Bancshares' announcement last week that it plans to remodel a vacant Meijer store into an office that will open next year with 1,400 employees.

Bank officials announced Nov. 22 that their plans for the space are part of a wider effort to expand Huntington's workforce and strengthen the Northland and Linden neighborhoods.

The bank will spend $18.3 million to renovate the 210,000-square-foot store at 5555 Cleveland Ave. The bank also said it plans to create 1,000 new jobs in the city by 2024 and that it will lend $300 million in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods of Columbus over the next five years.

Northland Community Council President Emmanuel V. Remy called it "a phenomenal opportunity."

"It will give people in the area more job opportunities," he said.

Dave Paul, chairman of the NCC's development committee, said he was delighted by the news.

"I'm really quite - thrilled is not too strong a word - both to see that site repurposed and also to see a very strong commercial use for that site in my neighborhood, very much my neighborhood, which is Forest Park," he said. "I see that as being very beneficial generally to the Northland area and to the Cleveland avenue area and to my neighborhood.

"I think this is very much the kind of development that site lends itself to and we'd like to see more of in the Northland area," Paul said.

Steve Steinour, the bank's president, chairman and CEO, said Huntington plans to move workers to the new Huntington Gateway Center from other operations in the city, including the Morse Road Northland Operations Center and offices at 7575 Huntington Park.

"This is our hometown. It means a lot to us, to what we do, to how we behave and how we invest," he said.

The former Meijer building is in the Northland area, a sprawling neighborhood that for years was anchored by Northland Mall, with the Morse Road and state Route 161 corridors teeming with stores and restaurants. Today, it's a neighborhood in transition, with many immigrants moving into the area the past two decades, including Somalis, Latinos and ethnic Nepalis from Bhutan.

Meijer closed the Cleveland Avenue store earlier this year, noting that it couldn't be remodeled to suit the retailer's current format. The bank bought the 27-acre site for $1.3 million, according to county property records.

The new office will have an open floor plan with unassigned seating, dining and fitness rooms. The site will include a Central Ohio Transit Authority rapid-transit bus hub, as well as a large parking lot to give employees several options for commuting.

The jobs coming to the center and the new jobs the bank plans to add in coming years will be mostly technology and back-office support positions for Huntington operations.

The bank will ask the city for tax incentives as part of the plan to add 1,000 jobs.

Huntington's announcement means improving neighborhoods, a point of emphasis with Mayor Andrew J. Ginther. He said Huntington's investment will anchor development in the Linden and Northland areas, and the lending will help businesses and families in neighborhoods.

"We know every family and every neighborhood has not shared in every success story," Ginther said.

Huntington's $300 million lending commitment consists of $175 million in small-business loans to low- to moderate- income areas, with a focus on the Linden and Northland areas; $25 million in mortgage lending with waived closing costs in low- to moderate-income areas; and $100 million in community-development loans and investment throughout low- to moderate-income neighborhoods in Columbus.

The small-business loans will create thousands of jobs on top of what the bank is doing, Steinour said.

He said he reached out to Ginther last year and asked how Huntington could help support his vision of Columbus' future.

"There is a moment there to celebrate, 1,000 new jobs," Steinour said, "but a part of who we are is to make Columbus a better city, and with this kind of commitment, there will be thousands of other jobs."

ThisWeek reporter Kevin Parks contributed to this story.

mawilliams@dispatch.com

@BizMarkWilliams