Photo Credit: Jud McCranie

A Historic Cornerstone of Columbus’ Black Community to “Rise from the Ashes” with $3.4 Million Revitalization July 19, 2023

In a Nutshell

What: With financing from IFF, the Central Ohio Community Improvement Corporation (COCIC) is restoring The Edna, a historic property with deep ties to the neighborhood’s past as a vibrant hub for the Black community, to house offices for the county land bank and community-strengthening organization focused on serving the Black community.
Sector: Community Development
Location: Columbus, OH (King-Lincoln Bronzeville)
Size: 8,694 square feet
Cost: $3.43 million
Funding and Financing Sources: IFF loan, National Park Service grant (Saving America’s Treasures), owner equity
IFF Support: $2.85 million loan closed in March 2023
Design: Moody Nolan
General Contractor: Sessley Construction
Impact: Acquiring and rehabilitating The Edna building will take a current abandoned property and return it to a useful status. The rehab will help it increase property values and the quality of the King-Lincoln district.

The featured image above, “The Edna,” by Jud McCranie, is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

On the 800 block of East Long Street in Columbus, OH, sits a three-story, red brick building that’s been largely vacant since 1986. Though stately in appearance, it bears the telltale signs of a structure left unoccupied for the better part of 40 years, and passersby couldn’t be blamed for drawing the conclusion that this is a building forgotten by time that’s destined to be demolished and replaced with something new. That, however, would be a mistake, as its current appearance belies its status as an icon in Columbus’ Black community listed on the National Register of Historic Places that’s in the early stages of a $3.4 million rehabilitation decades in the making.  

Breathing new life into the 118-year-old building known as The Edna is the Central Ohio Community Improvement Corporation (COCIC), whose mission as the county land bank is to return vacant, abandoned, and foreclosed properties to productive use. COCIC will accomplish that with The Edna in the next 12-18 months, meticulously restoring the 8,694-square-foot historic building to house offices for the organization on the second and third floors and to provide programming space at below-market-rate rent on the ground floor to tenants that will support Columbus’ Black community. It’s a project that’s simultaneously honoring the building’s history, positioning it as a symbol of revitalization in the King-Lincoln Bronzeville neighborhood on the city’s east side, and creating high-quality space in the community that will result in tangible impact.  

“Having grown up in Columbus during the era when The Edna was still a thriving part of the Black community here, I’m adamant about the rehab of this building,” says Curtiss L. Williams, Sr., President/CEO of COCIC. “When you tear down a building like this and start over with something new, it’s too easy to forget about the history – both the good and the painful. The Edna is an icon, and I believe raising it from the ashes provides an aspirational view of what this community can once again become.” 

Built in 1905, as Black residents began flocking to Columbus as part of the Great Migration and were pushed to the city’s east side by racial segregation, The Edna is most well known as the former home of a series of pioneering Black-owned businesses at the vanguard of business, media, politics, and civil rights during their respective eras. Among them was the Fireside Mutual Aid Association, an insurance company that catered to Columbus residents shunned by white-owned insurers; the Ohio Sentinel, a prominent “protest journal” that covered stories ignored by mainstream, white-owned newspapers; and the Dukes and Duchesses, a private social club catering to Black Columbus residents excluded from similar white-owned institutions.  

“When you tear down a building like this and start over with something new, it’s too easy to forget about the history – both the good and the painful. The Edna is an icon, and I believe raising it from the ashes provides an aspirational view of what this community can once again become.” 

By the time the Dukes and Duchesses club vacated The Edna in 1963, however, the King-Lincoln Bronzeville neighborhood was in the midst of rapid change that drastically altered the trajectory of the vibrant community sustained by Black residents for more than 50 years. It was during this period that the interstate highway system was constructed, with I-70 taking the place of Black-owned homes and businesses as it cleaved King-Lincoln Bronzeville and the rest of Columbus’ east side into a patchwork of neighborhoods disconnected from one another by the new infrastructure.  

“There was a community in King-Lincoln Bronzeville created out of necessity because of racism and discrimination, and over time it thrived,” says Williams. “Then, when the highway system was built, it isolated the neighborhood by cutting it off from the mainstream community. Disinvestment happened quickly after that, with homes and businesses destroyed, and there was very little opportunity to reverse the decline that followed.” 

The same can be said of The Edna, which slowly fell into disrepair despite a string of commercial tenants before the building was functionally abandoned in the mid-1980s. By the start of the 21st century, The Edna was on the brink of collapsing when the City of Columbus acquired it, replacing the roof and bolstering the structure with emergency shoring to keep it standing. While several private developers attempted to fully rehab The Edna in the ensuing years, none of the efforts were successful and the property – and history associated with it – remained perilously close to disappearing until COCIC committed to revitalizing the building and ensuring its long-term survival. 

To finance the restoration of The Edna, COCIC had conversations with several banks in the area before turning to IFF for a $2.85 million loan, which the organization felt comfortable taking on because of IFF’s understanding of the unique, community-strengthening potential of the project. Around the same time the loan closed in March 2023, COCIC began the painstaking process of transforming The Edna with the help of Moody Nolan, the largest Black-owned design firm in the country, and Sessley Construction, the general contractor for the project.  

“Since its founding, projects at Moody Nolan have steadily grown in scope and scale but our roots, in this historic neighborhood, speak to our culture and mission,” says Jonathan Moody, CEO of Moody Nolan. “Our commitment to restoring the urban fabric of the King-Lincoln District has always remained the same — ensuring a neighborhood that performs, inspires, and above all, endures, and we are proud to be partnering with COCIC and IFF.”

Work currently taking place at The Edna includes the installation of a new roof, brick cleaning and preservation, as well as the restoration of the building’s interior in keeping with the historic nature of the property. Rather than gutting The Edna and building out an entirely new interior, COCIC is preserving original elements like the wood flooring and oak-paneled fireplaces while bringing the facility up to current building codes.   

Similarly, COCIC is intent on preserving the ground floor windows facing the street to create connectivity between the community-building work that will take place inside The Edna and the neighborhood around it. Plywood adorned with murals by prominent local Black artists that has long covered the windows will be removed, and COCIC plans to incorporate high-quality digital reproductions of the artwork in the building’s interior design.  

Among the organizations already committed to leasing space on the ground floor is The Columbus Rising Project, a social enterprise that provides access to services, resources, and information to reduce the digital divide in under-resourced communities. As the project gets closer to completion, COCIC anticipates adding at least one additional tenant that will further strengthen the community.   

“We see The Edna as a way to help jump start additional development that can boost the neighborhood while retaining the ties to its past and the stories about what makes this community a special place.” 

“Our intent is to provide value to the community through the redevelopment of The Edna, and Columbus Rising is one example of that,” explains Williams. “The pandemic underscored the importance of having digital connectivity, and the digital services and education the organization will provide in The Edna will help reduce the digital divide in the area.” 

Once completed, The Edna will join several other buildings original to the King-Lincoln Bronzeville neighborhood as anchors for the ongoing revitalization of the area, including the Lincoln Theater and King Arts Complex, both of which were built in the 1920s and have deep ties to the cultural history of Columbus’ Black community. Together with the recently opened Adelphi Bank, the first Black-owned bank in Ohio, these icons of King-Lincoln Bronzeville’s past are indicative of a new chapter for the east side that will help move the community forward without losing touch with its proud history.   

“The community has worked really hard over the years to attract capital to the neighborhood, and restoring The Edna is a critical step in continuing to lay the foundation for more private sector investment in King-Lincoln Bronzeville,” says Williams. “We see The Edna as a way to help jump start additional development that can boost the neighborhood while retaining the ties to its past and the stories about what makes this community a special place.”  

Read about additional community-strengthening projects in Ohio financed by IFF