The two men behind a project to build a 21,000-square-foot mixed-use building where a gas station once stood on West Waterloo Street see the development as another element in Canal Winchester's thriving Old Town district.

Bob Wood II said he and his longtime friend, Todd Weiser, grew up in homes across the street from each other in Canal Winchester and have deep roots in the community.

Wood's parents, the late Peggy and Bob Wood, were longtime members of the Canal Winchester Historical Society and supporters of Canal Winchester Human Services, among other things.

Weiser is the son of the late Jo and Dick Weiser; his mother founded Canal Winchester Human Services and his father was a well-known local artist, famous for his watercolors, a collection of which he donated to the city in 2012.

"We're really focused on trying to make the old downtown area -- as successful as it is right now -- even more successful for years to come," Wood said.

The three-story building now under construction at 16-26 W. Waterloo St. features first-floor space for restaurants or retail stores and 14 one- and two-bedroom apartments on the second and third floors.

The project will add 36 parking spaces to a downtown area where residents have complained about a lack of parking.

The goal is to have the building open to tenants in September, Wood said.

The city owns the land, but Wood and Weiser, through their Trine Fairfield LLC, own the new building and have a 10-year leasing agreement for the land with the city.

The deal includes paying the city $1 per year for the first four years and about $30,000 annually for each of the following six years, with Trine Fairfield LLC purchasing the land by the end of the lease, Wood said.

"There's never been anything done like this in the city of Canal Winchester, and we feel very fortunate that the city is allowing us to get the building stabilized from a rent and leasing standpoint," he said.

Capitol Equities, a Columbus-based real-estate agency, is handling leasing opportunities, with the apartment rents likely ranging from $1,300 to $2,100 per month, Wood said. He said about 20 people have expressed interest in the apartments, which range in size from 700 square feet to nearly 1,200 square feet.

However, the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus has dampened plans to fill the restaurant or retail space.

"We've got interest from one particular restaurant group in Columbus, and I think we would've had a lease signed back in March had it not been for COVID-19," Wood said. "There still is interest in the retail space, and we hope next month or in early September we'll announce that we have a tenant."

Lucas Haire, Canal Winchester development director, also remains optimistic, noting the building offers "a great location and a prime opportunity for a business to take advantage of the first new retail space in Old Town Canal Winchester in a very long time.

"If businesses take a long-term view, they will have no issues being successful in the heart of one of the fastest growing communities in Ohio," Haire said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Canal Winchester grew by 4.4% between 2016 and 2017 as Ohio's fastest-growing city, narrowly edging Dublin.

In preparing architectural drawings for the project, Wood and Weiser ensured their concept met the criteria established in the Old Town Plan adopted by City Council in 2017.

The goals of the plan are to promote commercial growth by creating new spaces for businesses in the Old Town area; diversify housing by adding new living options that currently do not exist in the city; increase livability and walkability by enhancing the streetscape along Waterloo Street; and add new businesses that complement the neighborhood.

"This building fills a huge gap in the streetscape that will encourage more pedestrian activity to travel this direction from High Street," Haire said.

In order to prepare the site for development, City Council approved an emergency ordinance in March 2019 authorizing Mayor Mike Ebert to enter into a demolition agreement with the Central Ohio Community Improvement Corp. to raze a vacant and blighted home at 26 W. Waterloo St.

The COCIC is a nonprofit public-private partnership created in 2005 to rehabilitate distressed properties in Franklin County.

The house, which the city purchased in September 2017, was adjacent to where the Marathon gas station once stood.

The gas station was demolished in 2008 under a similar agreement with Franklin County.

As their new building takes shape, Wood said he and Weiser are eyeing more opportunities to enhance their hometown.

"He and I are having a lot of fun working together," Wood said. "We really want to help make the Old Town area of Canal Winchester as thriving as we possibly can."

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