Bringing it Home
An Interview with Michael Tomko

Clintonville in Columbus is a charming, walkable city with a community spirit that makes it undeniably welcoming; it’s no wonder that when I walked into the Clintonville Apartments company offices I felt the same way, as they have been working in the neighborhood providing quality rentals for quite some time. Before I officially met Michael Tomko who I was there to interview, I was greeted by two tail-wagging puppies that bring life to the office throughout the day, and further prove that this is more than a rental company; it is a family business that takes pride in creating the residential portfolio that it has grown over the years. Michael’s parents purchased and rented out their first building some 30 years ago, and he decided to follow in their footprints and began purchasing properties primarily in Old North Columbus, an area he feels passionately about and describes as a perfect place for a young professional looking for the energy of the campus area and accessibility to Downtown.

Michael grew up in Clintonville where his family has been for three decades; currently he is splitting his time between Columbus, where he works, hikes, and enjoys the outdoors and Boston where he is working towards his law degree which he will obtain this spring (2015). The perspective Michael is building living in one of our country’s most known, walkable cities and a city already rising to the top of the ranks is invaluable when navigating the urban real estate industry, and for accomplishing his future goals which focus on real estate finance technology. With his roots here in Columbus, his education wrapping up in Boston, and a future goal of building a Columbus based company with a nationwide impact, I couldn’t help but feel excited to talk urban with Michael. To learn more about Michael Tomko, Clintonville Apartments, and urban living in Columbus check out his interview below.

Where are you from?

I’m from Columbus, actually; from right up to the street. I grew up in Clintonville and went to Immaculate Conception for nine years. I go to law school in Boston, and bounce back and forth as of now.

When you went away to college, what made you want to come back to Columbus?

The more time I spend in other places, the more I appreciate what makes Columbus special.

What is it that makes Columbus so special to you?

The culture and the people…Columbus has a lot of wonderful cultural qualities in terms of the energy, the enthusiasm, and the lack of cynicism that make it such a wonderful place to live and work.

What are the neighborhoods that you primarily work in?

It’s mostly Clintonville and Old North Columbus; also the Arlington and Grandview areas.

What is it that makes those different areas appealing?

So, one thing that I know draws people to Arlington is the great schools. I think it’s a great place for families to look for apartments; especially families with young children who want to be in a city-like environment and want to make sure their kids are getting a great education. Grandview really appeals to young people with all of the restaurants and bars, and the exciting developments going on there, especially Nationwide’s work at the Grandview Yard; Clintonville is such an interesting place to live because it's a neighborhood with so many people who have moved to the city recently, often OSU graduates and graduate students, but it's also home to families, local businesses, and people who have lived in the neighborhood forever. More than anywhere else I know of, it's a microcosm of Columbus and even though it's a small community, it's balances the old and the new perfectly and you can find almost anything here.

How does someone know that they are walking into one of your rental units?

I started looking at properties in Old North Columbus…it’s a really exciting area with great energy, a lot of revitalization…and a lot of old buildings that are in great shape. I started buying some of those buildings and changing things around…fresh paint, new fixtures, new cabinets… really brightening them up. The difference between the before and after is incredible.

Tell me more about Old North Columbus

Old North Columbus is an interesting area that people don’t talk a lot about. People tend to blend it into campus or into Clintonville… It’s a great place, especially for young professionals. I think it’s very similar to Italian Village, and Victorian Village.

It’s a beautiful day outside; you can only get around on foot…where are some places you would go?

I would start out [in Clintonville], go up to Whetstone Park to the bike path…I love the bike trail along the river, and how it runs all the way up to Antrim. That’s just a beautiful view, a beautiful place to go walking or running. Then back down to Northstar Café…and then a coffee shop; I love Crimson Cup…they are local and do excellent work.

If someone were to say that Columbus isn’t a walking city at all, what would you say?

I think the biggest thing is getting people to try it. Before I lived in a walking city like Boston I didn’t walk much around here. Once I started walking more around here, I realized how close things are.

What does gentrification mean to you?

Gentrification is sort of a complicated thing. I think that in a city like Columbus where we aren’t so land restrained, we have a lot of healthy suburbs, and revitalizing first string neighborhoods, I think that gentrification can be a great thing. When I think of gentrification I think of increased density; beautiful historical buildings, which is something that I think makes Columbus really unique; I think of diverse, walkable neighborhoods, and I think of revitalizing and reenergizing a lot of Columbus’s great, old neighborhoods where a lot of old buildings which have been neglected and vacant are being restored to their former glory, which I think is pretty cool.

What is it about an urban neighborhood that makes it the next “new” neighborhood?

I think a lot of people talk about developers and the work that they do in all of these different neighborhoods that we’ve seen revitalized like the Short North, Italian Village, and parts of Grandview, but I think it really starts with the people in Columbus; especially a lot of the younger people and choosing where they want to live…places with great local restaurants, where people can find places to live that are interesting. Once people move to an area and invest, that’s when I think the development follows.

What are some of the milestone changes you’ve seen in urban real estate?

I think some of the biggest milestone changes for this neighborhood, have actually not been the developments that have happened here, but rather the overall revitalization and movement towards the downtown core of Columbus…The pull isn’t outwards towards the suburbs anymore…

What are some community efforts in the area?

In recent years, Broadway started throwing block parties on the street. It’s pretty cool because it’s a residential street, and lot of cars pass through… It’s cool to see people caring more and thinking more about how to build community on their streets. I think a lot of different streets in Clintonville throw parties like that now. And also, another thing; I think a great source of community is Whetstone Park…it’s one of the best urban parks I’ve seen anywhere. The library as well is a great source of community.

What does Grandview offer to the blueprint of Columbus?

In my mind Grandview is characterized by a greater density…and is probably more walkable than Clintonville, and that’s saying a lot. I think it’s cool that a place like Grandview now can have the space to accommodate the development and the features of density like the Short North enjoys while keeping its own character, and having buildings very much of a different style, and restaurants that are different from the Short North. And as great as it is today, it also has room to grow into something else tomorrow that’s going to be great as well.

Crime is a perception when it comes to city living; what do you have to say about it?

I totally get that perception you are talking about, especially from people from the suburbs that have that certain perception of the city…one thing I would say is just come and look…come walk around on a Wednesday morning, on a Friday evening…and I think that just walking around you can sense the positive energy; it just seems like safe place to be.

It’s funny; I went to school in Gahanna, at Columbus Academy. I was literally the only student from my graduating class who lived in the city of Columbus. I remember, when I’d have friends over they’d say “well you live in Clintonville, my parents want to know if it’s safe for me to go over there.”

When people ask us about any of our apartments, often they’ll ask if it’s in a safe area…if you want to know about the crime stats talk to the local police department, but what I can say is that my family has been here 30 years, and we’ve never felt unsafe here at all. It’s more urban, it’s more dense, but it’s not less of a community. I have no problem going out and walking my dog at 11 at night.

It’s time for Columbus word association…I say a topic, you say the first thing that comes to mind:

Breakfast- Nancy’s Home Cooking; that’s down on High Street…when I have friends visiting that’s one of the first places we go

Lunch- Crest Gastro Pub, but if it’s the weekend, maybe Ray Ray’s Hog Pit which is down in Old North Columbus.

Dinner- 3rd & Hollywood in Grandview; it’s just one of the best restaurants that I’ve ever been to.

Shopping- I think of High Street in general.

Cocktails- I had a friend here from Texas who lives in San Francisco now and we went down to Local Cantina and she said that it was the first real margarita that she’s had since she left Texas…that sounds like a pretty ringing endorsement if you ask me.

Mom & Pop Grocery Store- Weilands on Indianola Avenue…they have the best butchers department in the city and they just do great work. One thing we cannot over look is the Clintonville Farmers Market…they do an unbelievable job.

Parks- Really the best thing is seeing the parks that are connected along the Olentangy Trail.

Hidden Gem- Walhalla Ravine in Clintonville is absolutely beautiful. It’s a genuine ravine with a lot of nature.

What do you see the future of urban living in Columbus to look like?

I think that as time goes on Columbus is going to develop and grow; I think it’s a great place to live. I think it’s going to keep expanding, but I think it’s going to expand in its own unique way. I think it’s going to have its own kind personality reflecting all of its development. Sometimes you see articles in magazines and in the paper talking about how Columbus will be the next Silicon Valley; while I think certainly Columbus is going to grow and is going to continue to be a great place to do business and a great place to live, I think it’s going to do it in its own way. Columbus is not a lesser version of anything else…it’s its own city entirely.

Someone is on the verge of moving to the city; they aren’t yet convinced, and you are the last person they talk to…what would you say to them?

Spend some time here. Really spend a few hours on a few different days, a few different nights in a neighborhood like Clintonville or Grandview and I think they’ll absolutely sell themselves…I don’t think that there is any more selling than that needed. See the people who are here and talk to them; go to the farmers market, go to the coffee shop, go the antique store…look at the beautiful homes that have been here for 100 years and will be here for much longer. I think it all speaks for itself.

By the end of our conversation, I couldn’t help but imagine the impact Michael will have the real estate industry and the city of Columbus. Michael will remain busy as he works towards completing his courses to earn his law degree, all while preparing the Clintonville Apartments newly acquired commercial building located Downtown, which will add to their already expansive real estate portfolio which they advertise on as a Premier Partner; visit the following link to learn about their rental units.












Hit Countervisitors since April 15