The Fallen Kings of the Short North
Some 200 people squeezed under a tent at the future site of Ibiza, the $45 million Short North condo development. The crowd included neighborhood leaders, city officials and prospective buyers. Curious folks from Gallery Hop also filtered in to learn more about the coolest project in Columbus’s coolest neighborhood.
The massive proposal—“an avatar of urban living,” a marketing brochure proclaimed—included an 11-story tower, a parking garage (a first for the Short North), a rooftop pool and an unusual mix of units, from affordable one-bedroom flats to a $1.5 million penthouse. Since it was announced 17 months earlier, Ibiza had generated lots of excitement, and the launch party on this evening in April 2008 pumped the hype even more. Andrea Cambern, the Channel 10 anchor, served as emcee. Then-Gov. Ted Strickland cut a ribbon to mark the start of construction and posed for photos with guests as they sipped cocktails and snacked on shrimp. “It was a community event,” says Ken Baublitz, a Florida resident who attended the party.
Anyone who signed up for a unit was entered in a drawing to win a Smart car. Baublitz took home the prize, but he probably wasn’t the big winner of the evening. That honor jointly went to Ray Brown and Rajesh Lahoti, the Ibiza co-developers and longtime business partners who cemented their place at the top of the Short North aristocracy with the launch of their most ambitious project yet.
In the late 1980s, Brown and Lahoti met at Worthington High School, where Lahoti was a student and Brown a young police officer assigned to the school. A few years later, they became friends after both came out as gay and launched their first business, Union Station Video Cafe, a groundbreaking nightspot in the Short North. They soon added to their portfolio two more popular Short North gay bars—Havana and Axis—and picked up a couple of business partners, Michael Council, a well-connected antique quilt dealer, and Wilbur Ischie, an attorney from the Cleveland area.
With Council and Ischie providing them with more capital, Lahoti, the idea man, and Brown, the nuts-and-bolts manager, expanded the Union Station concept to Cincinnati and Cleveland. They also made their mark in real estate with the Dakota, a $10 million project built in 2007 that revealed the Short North’s untapped market for new upscale condos. (The 44 units sold out in 18 months.) The pair, along with Ischie and Council, lived in luxury brownstones across from Goodale Park they developed themselves and reinvigorated their original bar, now called Union Cafe, by moving it to fancier digs a few blocks north on High Street. By 2008, they were the kings of the Short North, and Ibiza, the biggest residential project ever proposed for the neighborhood, would be their jewel in the crown. “It seemed very real; it seemed very legit,” says Maria Unterbrink, who put down $7,500 to reserve a $150,000 space.
Unterbrink attended the launch party with her parents, who own a farm in northwest Ohio. “I have a feeling they were excited to see their baby kind of make it in the big city,” says Unterbrink, a creative project manager at Paul Werth Associates. With its amenities and location, her condo at Ibiza was to be her dream home. “I was really excited to own my first place and to live in the fun part of town,” she says.
She enjoyed herself at the party, but the developers did throw a curveball at her that night: They changed the move-in date from the summer of 2009 to the fall of that year. “My ears perked up because I had been given different information,” she says.
It wouldn’t be the last time they surprised her.
Today, the party is over for Ibiza. Nearly four years since Strickland cut the ribbon, the site is still vacant...