An old warehouse built originally to store hay is being converted into housing — the kind intended to be trendy industrial, yet raw and affordable enough to attract artsy and entrepreneurial young people who work in north downtown Omaha.

Called the Rochester, a nod to a former tenant’s name still emblazoned on the structure at 1015 N. 14th St., the 75-unit complex is the latest conversion project of NuStyle Development Corp., which has brought numerous other apartments to the downtown area.

Technically, the 74,443-square-foot Rochester is a cluster of buildings and additions, the first of which predates 1920, in the Nicholas Street Historic District, said Todd Heistand, who owns Woodbine, Iowa-based NuStyle with his wife, Mary.

Heistand said the Rochester stands out among his company’s amenity-plenty projects because it will have fewer frills and rents generally $150 less per month than others.

“It’s kind of the opposite of what we’ve been doing,” Heistand said. “Every other building we’d been stepping it up.”

The new apartments would be one block north of a few hotels and two blocks north of TD Ameritrade Park.

Also nearby is the start of a $9.2 million five-story apartment building being built from scratch at 16th and Nicholas Streets. Nichol Flats is to have 67 market-rate apartments above office and commercial space. When Anant Enterprises began that project, partner Kirti Trivedi said that he hoped “cleaning up the corner” would help his investment in the Holiday Inn Downtown Omaha as well as encourage future investment.

Also in the area are Bluestone Development’s 9ines apartments at 13th and Cuming Streets and 22 Floors loft-style apartments at 13th and Mike Fahey Streets. All 46 residential units in those two structures, which opened in 2009 and 2011, are fully occupied, said Debra Christensen of Bluestone.

The $10.6 million NuStyle project still would have modern conveniences such as full-size stainless steel appliances and a washer-dryer in each unit. It would have bike storage, a small fitness center and a living room and coffee bar near the entrance where residents can interact.

What it wouldn’t have, for example, is a full-size swimming pool like the one hoisted to the rooftop of the Wire apartments at 19th and Dodge Streets. Or individual balconies, like those offered at the nearby Slate. Or an indoor basketball court and outdoor theater like those built into the Highline at 22nd and Dodge.

Heistand called the Rochester NuStyle’s first true warehouse conversion since the TipTop, a nearby residential and commercial complex that was renovated and opened as its current self in 2005.

Exterior concrete block walls at the Rochester will stay, as will exposed brick interior walls. Open ceilings will reveal wood and steel trusses and create a loft feel.

Crews currently are cleaning and preparing for interior framing, which should start in a few weeks. The building is scheduled to be open for occupancy in June.

Rents for the smallest units are expected to start at about $650 a month. A nearby lot is to provide surface parking for tenants, who also would have spaces on adjacent streets.

NuStyle plans to request $1.6 million in public tax-increment financing, $650,000 in state historical tax credits and $1.69 million in federal historical tax credits.

The hope, said Laura Alley of Alley Poyner Macchietto Architects — which is the architect for the project and also a tenant in the area — is that the Rochester will help spur activity in what she calls the “north downtown innovation district.”

She and Heistand said business growth in the neighborhood stalled somewhat following big capital projects that included the baseball stadium and the complex that houses the Slowdown concert venue.

Yet creative minds continue to be drawn to worksites like the Mastercraft Building business center, Hot Shops Art Center and the Co-Lab, all north of Cuming Street. Heistand envisions the Rochester opening up more affordable market-rate options for those workers to also live and reinvigorate the area.

According to paperwork NuStyle submitted to city planners, the Rochester is meant to provide “the start of stable, affordable housing that will feel at home with modern light industrial businesses and craftsmen.”

Indeed, Rochester builders even nicknamed the various floor plans in the apartment complex after crafts and trades that inhabited the area in its heyday. Among them: the Brewer; the Tailor; the Candlestick Maker.

Those businesses of yesteryear produced locally crafted goods from raw materials brought to them by railroad tracks that still surround the Rochester. Many of those goods were then put back on railroad cars and distributed to consumers across the nation.

The original occupant of the Rochester site was the Hay Exchange Building. The last was Rochester Midland, a cleaning company whose name still marks the entrance. Heistand said it has been essentially vacant since 2006, except for storage use.

Heistand said he turned his attention to the Rochester property in part to keep it from being sold for use as an individual storage unit facility.

The timing also was right, he said, because NuStyle’s $30 million conversion of Omaha’s old riverfront power station was stretching out because of unanticipated permits. His crews had time to focus on another project.

“So we jumped in.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1224, cindy.gonzalez@owh.com

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