Trolley District near Franklin Park aims for August opening with food hall, brewpub

Jim Weiker
The Columbus Dispatch
The Trolley District, a $25-million redevelopment of the city's old trolley car facilities near Franklin Park, is on track to start opening in August.

The Trolley District, a $25 million redevelopment of the city's old trolley car facilities near Franklin Park, is on track to start opening in August. 

The developer, Brad DeHays, wishes it had been a lot sooner.

"I would have liked to have opened a month ago," said DeHays, owner of Connect Realty. 

The project was delayed by construction challenges to the 1880s-era buildings, including a fire that damaged the roof and heavy rains that collapsed a wall soon after construction began last spring. Work continued through much of the COVID-19 pandemic until the fall, when outbreaks knocked out contractors.

"Every time a contractor got COVID, it shut them down," DeHays said. "It wasn't so bad last summer, but in the fall, I couldn't go a week without a quarantined contractor." 

Contractors install skylights in the East Market building of the Trolley District on Wednesday.

DeHays expects the first phase of the district, the East Market building, a food hall and bar that anchors the development, to open in August, followed in the fall by the Columbus Brewing Co. brewpub and beer garden. 

Scheduled to open next year will be a small building housing a seafood boil restaurant; a small office building; and a larger building housing four more tenants including Local Cantina Mexican restaurant. 

The Trolley District includes five buildings on more than three acres. The largest building, called the East Market building, will hold a food hall and bar.

In all, the development will house about two dozen food, bar and retail tenants in five buildings on more than 3 acres. The project is so expansive that DeHays changed the name from the Trolley Barn project to the Trolley District.

"There's so much going on here, I thought we needed another name," DeHays said. "It'll change this whole area." 

Ultimately, the District will also include the Trolley District Apartments, a five-story, 102-unit apartment building on the southeast corner of Oak Street and Kelton Avenue, across the street from the East Market building. DeHays plans to start on the apartments in the spring. 

The Trolley District includes four buildings in addition to the East Market building (not shown here). Columbus Brewing Co. will open a brewpub in the building shown on the left.

Aubrey Stevens, director of operations and leasing for the Trolley District's East Market, said several tenants have signed on for the food hall including Butcher & Grocer, which will lease five of the market's 23 stalls; Creole to Geaux restaurant; Fourteen Twenty Nine bakery; and vendors serving tacos, pizza, breakfast and Mediterranean dishes. She did not identify the restaurants because they have not all told their current landlords.

The eastern end of the East Market building will be occupied by the Railhouse bar, and tables for customers of the food vendors and open onto a large elevated patio. The building's lower level will feature a small speakeasy-type bar called Switch and the upper level will include seating for almost 200.

Developer Brad DeHays, with Connect Realty, tours the second floor of the East Market building in the Trolley District, which will include seating and event space.

Stevens said the market is looking for Chinese and Indian food vendors, a florist and an ice cream shop, among others, but overall, "I feel good about where we are."

In its five stalls around the market's entrance, Butcher & Grocer will sell fresh meat, cheeses, seafood, grocery items, and salads and sandwiches to go. 

Butcher & Grocer owner Tony Tanner said he’s looking forward to opening on the East Side, following his success in Grandview Heights.  

“I’m a lifelong East Sider,” Tanner said. “I still live on the East Side. A lot’s happening there. We saw this as an opportunity to get our foot in the door in that area.”  

The East Market building will include about 20 food and retail vendors.

Tanner is hoping to be able to open by the end of August, but is facing delays getting equipment.

"Things that would normally take four to six weeks now are taking up to 16 weeks, and that may not change soon," he said. "The lead times are incredible. Anything made of stainless steel is impossible to get now."

Columbus Brewing Co. owner Eric Bean is shooting for a fall opening of the company's brewpub, which occupies a 13,000-square-foot building on the site. The pub can seat 263 indoors and another 108 on the patio.

"We’re shooting for the fourth quarter, but it could be as early as September," Bean said. "But with everything that’s happened over the last year, it’s hard to predict construction."

The Columbus Brewing Co.'s space will include a tasting room, shown here, separate from the main brewpub.

DeHays certainly understands that. The five buildings that made up the Trolley Barn District were little more than brick shells when he acquired the property more than seven years ago. He has rebuilt the roofs, shored up the walls, dug a basement in the main building, poured floors, and installed electricity, plumbing, cable and heating and cooling. He's dealt with a fire and a collapsed wall. 

"It's been an engineering feat to rebuild this," said DeHays, who has financed the project with the help of tax incentives.   

Despite the necessary updates, the Trolley District buildings remain unmistakably vintage, with their exposed brick, high ceilings and timber beams. DeHays has enhanced the effect by installing gas-fueled lights in the Railhouse bar and embedding train tracks in the concrete floors. 

Bean has worked with DeHays for five years on the project and is also ready for it to open, but knew it wouldn't be an easy one, especially with a pandemic.

"If we’d talked this time last year, you would have heard panic in my voice," he said. "At this stage, I certainly wish the patio were open, but we’ve been working on this project for so, long, we'll be ready when it's ready." 

The first parts of the Trolley District, the East Market building and Columbus Brewing Co., are expected to open this year.