The high ceilings, exposed brickwork and door of an old bank vault echo the namesake of the Hilltop Bank Block. But these days, what a site visitor is most likely to notice is a rich smell of coffee.
A large roaster and other amenities from Roosevelt Coffee Roasters – which moved in earlier this month – take up half the room in the development’s main building at 2374 W. Broad Street, a sign that it and the spaces to nearby find a new purpose.
Brothers Preston and Parker Steele are working to change the block – which includes the old bank building built in 1928 and a few other side-by-side buildings between North Wayne and North Oakley avenues – into a destination. In total, the project has 29,000 square feet of commercial space and six residential spaces.
“There’s a story behind it. It’s architecturally significant,” said Preston Steele, co-owner of the block of buildings called Hilltop Bank Block. “It’s a bit old-fashioned, but we’re used to old buildings.”
In addition to the bank building, the block has about six other commercial spaces. There are four finished apartments, which have been renovated and are now occupied by tenants, with the possibility of making two more apartments, the Steeles said.
“We’re trying to change the narrative of the Hilltop, at least from a live-work perspective,” said Parker Steele, project managing partner and building owner representative.
The goal, Preston Steele said, is to connect people to the West Side, and the first step in this case was to get Kenny Sipes, founder of Roosevelt Coffeehouse and Roosevelt Coffee Roasters, as a tenant.
The roasting operation, launched in 2018, was operating out of a rented building in Franklinton and was looking for other options when it learned of the Hilltop Bank Block project, Sipes said.
“When I first visited the building, I thought, ‘It’s quite fascinating and it’s quite beautiful and it could be quite special.'”
It helped that he already knew John Rush, a social entrepreneur who uses Roosevelt Coffee at Third Way Café, a hilltop cafe at 3058 W. Broad St. that he started with his son. Rush is a partner in the Hilltop Bank Block project and plans to use the facade of the bank building as a second-hand bookstore called Kennedy Used Books, he said.
Rush said he aims to open the bookstore in April and eventually have a Third Way coffee kiosk to serve customers.
Long term, Rush said he wants to change perceptions about Hilltop.
“When people think of the Hilltop, think of the West Side, they think of what the stats might show,” he said. “They’re thinking crime. They’re thinking drugs. They’re thinking soliciting. … We’re like, ‘Yeah, it’s in the neighborhood, but it doesn’t matter for resilience.’ “”
Preston Steele said he hopes the Hilltop Bank Block will become a community cultural hub, a destination for locals.
Columbus officials say it also ties into Envision Hilltop, a community plan created by the city after months of collecting feedback from local residents. The plan calls for more affordable retail space in the community and cites the West Broad Street area between Wheatland and Richardson Avenues as locations with retail investment potential.
“The Envision Hilltop Plan includes recommendations for development in key corridors in the region, and this project is an example of that type of development,” said Carla Williams-Scott, director of the Columbus Department of Neighborhoods.
The Steele brothers said they were told by city officials that about 20,000 cars pass through the Hilltop Bank Block daily. They want to create a reason for people to stop.
“It’s a blank canvas,” Parker Steele said. “The vision is to create a community.”
This story is part of Dispatch Mobile Newsroom initiative, which focused on Northland, Driving Park, Hilltop and now Whitehall. Read the work of our journalists on dispatch.com/mobilenewsroomwhere you can also subscribe to The Mobile Newsroom Newsletter.