An out-of-state developer plans to buy and renovate two historic apartment buildings on the near west side in another positive sign for the downtown housing market, which continues to thrive after decades of stagnation.
Foremost Development has an agreement to buy the troubled Washington-Colfax Apartments with plans to completely renovate the nearly century-old property between West Washington Street and Colfax Avenue.
“When I first saw the property, I got really excited about it,” said Terry Bailey, co-founder of the Birmingham, Mich.-based firm, which develops, builds and manages apartment communities in the Midwest.
“And then I went downtown and saw all the streets were under construction, and I got very, very excited,” Bailey said. “You could tell there was some progress going on there.”
The nearly 1-acre property consists of two identical brick-and-stone buildings, one facing Washington and one facing Colfax, plus a paved parking lot on Colfax.
The buildings, both 3½ stories tall and with prominent bay-window walls, date to the early 1900s and feature 62 apartments ranging in size from about 500 to more than 1,000 square feet.
Foremost plans to invest about $7 million in the project, Bailey said, with work set to begin early next year pending financing and local and state approvals
“This property is going to be renovated totally,” he said. “I’m not going to call it a gut renovation because some of the things inside of the buildings are still intact and in good shape, but it is going to be an extensive renovation for all units.”
The plan, Bailey said, is to move residents from one half of the property to the other, renovate the empty half, then make the renovated units available to qualifying residents.
Work on the other half of the property would then follow.
At least some of the units would be affordable, Bailey said, though most would be market rate. Rents have not been set.
Though structurally sound, parts of the property are in rough shape, with peeling paint, broken or boarded-up windows and torn screens.
At least one section of the south building is vacant. The exterior door is boarded-up and does not latch. The interior doors are unsecured.
Foremost is seeking a variance to redo the crumbling parking lot with 50 spaces instead of the required 124, or two per unit. A hearing is set for Wednesday.
Tribune records show there was a fire at the property in 2011 and a shooting in 2015. Residents were without heat in the north building for more than a month in late 2009.
Police have responded to the property for issues ranging from assault to larceny to robbery 27 times since the beginning of 2015.
Records show Rochester, Mich.-based South Bend Investments LLC bought the property from Elizabeth Jones, of Seattle, for $580,000 in December.
The Tribune has requested information on the number of code enforcement violations associated with the property over the past two years.
Noreen Deane-Moran, president of the Near West Side Neighborhood Organization, lives three doors down from the north apartment building on Colfax.
“We are just ecstatic,” Deane-Moran said of the planned renovation.
Neighbors have long complained about the condition of the property, Deane-Moran said, blaming it on a string of absent landlords.
“Every time there’s a fire and I end up holding a baby in the parking lot while the mother tries to make arrangements, I’m more and more aware of how awful it is,” she said.
The property, which dates to 1895, 1917 or 1923, depending on the source, is not a local landmark, said Elicia Feasel, executive director of the Historic Preservation Commission of South Bend and St. Joseph County.
It is, however, part of the West Washington National Register Historic District, which includes the Studebaker and Oliver mansions, among other notable properties.
“They are one of a kind,” Feasel said of the apartment buildings. “I’m really looking forward to something happening to them, something positive happening to them.”
Bailey said he has been in talks with the city about contributing to the project via tax abatement, direct investment of tax increment finance dollars or both.
The property may qualify for historic preservation tax credits, as well.
Speaking on behalf of the city, Brian Pawlowski, acting director of Community Investment, said, “We haven’t made any final decisions yet, but it’s a great property that’s been around a long time and could use the attention. It’s good to have a private developer interested and with resources to make improvements.”
Bailey, for his part, is determined to make the project work.
“When you see it and look at everything else around there, this building must be renovated,” he said.
Source: South Bend Tribune