The Merrill Redevelopment Authority plans to ask the Common Council to weigh in on its plans to borrow the just over $100,000 needed to renovate the condemned storefronts at 811 and 813 E. Main Street.
At its Tuesday meeting, the Authority learned that the costs to renovate the over 100 year old building would be much lower than originally thought. Mike Morrissey of Redevelopment Resources said while the two storefronts will require some work, including the installation of a separate heating and cooling system for the 811 side, considering the shape they were in nearly two years ago when the city first got involved with them, the price tag for fixing them is a relative bargain.
Finnegan Construction has bid $75,726 for the interior work, including separating the electrical and plumbing of the two stores and installing a new HVAC system in the 811 side. Hi Lo Service Company bid $28,090 for the brick work and other services on the exterior of the building.
"The property was just loaded with code violations," Morrissey said. "There will still be a scope of services needed to bring the lower level compliant, but they aren't as bad as we first thought."
Stacy Ness of KYE Studios said the work done to rehabilitate the building would be similar to what was done on the Blooming Wishes building. The paint would be stripped from the brick exterior then painted red, the northeast wall would be stabilized or replaced, the northeast parapet would be rebuilt to match the other one, new roofing would be added where needed, replace windows and doors as well as clean and repaint what tin ceilings can be salvaged. The drop ceiling in the 811 side would be removed as well as well as striping the floor to the substrate and laying new carpet. As many of the historical details as possible would be left.
In addition, the WJMT sign and billboard would be removed from the East wall.
No work will be done to the second floor apartment spaces other than removing the porches from the back of the building and bricking over the garage door.
"It's a good solution for what we need to accomplish," Ness said. "It's a very unique building with a lot of detail."
Leaving the building divided into two separate leasable spaces was preferable because it would be easier to find tenants for the smaller spaces, Morrissey said.
Mayor Bill Bialecki said that the basement of the building was in surprisingly good shape.
Morrissey told the members of the Authority that if the two retail spaces could be rented for $10 a square foot, which is comparable to similar buildings on the west side, they could generate almost $20,000 in rent monthly if the city could not find a buyer for the building after the renovations are completed. He said the cash flow from the two storefronts could pay back the loan in 4.2 years after stabilization.
"These are good numbers," he said. "This is a good return on the investment."
Morrissey said that the upstairs apartments would mean additional revenue to any potential buyer of the buildings once renovated.
Kathy Unertl said that the city spent a week cleaning out the building, including the basement and apartments in addition to the retail space.
Bialecki said considering the age of the building and the potential of returning it to the tax rolls, doing the project makes a lot of sense and help recoup the $15,000 the city has already invested in it.
"For us to do this project and then the Lincoln House next year, would really bring up the property values on the whole block," Bialecki said. "I don't even think we could tear it down for $100,000."
Unertl said that while the Redevelopment Authority could borrow the funds needed to go forward with the project on its own, she said going to the Common Council for discussion would be the wisest course of action.
The members voted unanimously to take the proposal to the Council for their feedback.
Unertl said that the city has over 70 acres of vacant and deteriorating commercial and industrial property, holding up a two-page list of sites. Getting the property owners to work with the city on either rehabilitating or removing them has been a long process.
"This isn't going to happen overnight," she said. "This has been the result of decades of neglect on the part of the city. In some cases tearing them down would be the easiest way to go. Sometimes a vacant lot is more valuable than a deteriorating building."
She said unless the owners agree to work with the city on the blighted buildings, there is not much that can be done right now.
"Right now, all our blighted TIDs are at negative balances," she said.