For decades, the top four floors of an Old Market anchor sat mostly idle, save for storage of antiques and other odds and ends.
Come fall, though, new apartment dwellers and office workers should breathe fresh life into the structure built about 130 years ago at the northeast corner of 12th and Howard Streets.
“It was such a waste,” current owner John Mahmoud Feddin said of the inactive spaces. “Everybody’s eyes are on the Old Market ... that was such a waste, it was ridiculous.”
Assisted by urban redevelopment financing tools, Feddin and his development team are nearing completion of a $14 million renovation of the building named after prominent lawyer and real estate investor John M. Woolworth. Historical records show that he erected it in the 1880s on the site of his former residence.
Popular street-level retailers such as Stokes and Billy Frogg’s have remained intact during renovation, and will continue operations. Floors above them are being completely rehabilitated, with historic details such as wood floors and huge sliding fire doors preserved when possible. The exterior has been reinforced and spruced up.
Leasing of the first residential units is to start in late September, said Feddin’s lawyer, Brent Beller of Fullenkamp, Doyle & Jobeun.
Here’s what to expect at 1114-24 Howard St.:
The second floor, which spans more than 16,000 square feet, is turning into commercial office bays for roughly 120 workers.
Loft-style apartments carved out of the top three floors will add 44 units to the more than 2,200 residences city planners say have been renovated or built in the downtown area since 2010 with help from tax-increment financing. Rent for the Woolworth’s one- and two-bedroom units will range from about $900 to $2,000. Feddin believes this marks the first time the upper floors of this building will be used for living and traditional offices.
The Woolworth’s tenants will have access to a new workout facility and community and bike rooms.
There’s also the skylight atrium — described by Beller as the “crown jewel” — which cuts through the building’s core. It provides natural light as well as visual appeal for interior apartment dwellers who can look through windows into the light well that leads to a lower space where residents can congregate and sip coffee.
To city planners, the Woolworth Lofts project helps respond to a goal of adding housing and residents to the city’s downtown central business district.
“You don’t want your downtown to be 8 to 5,” with lights out at the close of the work day, said Planning Director Dave Fanslau.
It also activates the bulk of an 87,000-square-foot building that for years had been vacant or underused.
Eric Westman of Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture, which worked on the design, said it’s been a long while since an original Old Market warehouse transitioned into a new use of that proportion and cost.
He recalled the old Butternut Building that was being converted to apartments when a 2004 fire halted the effort and destroyed the structure. The brand new Corvina mixed-use project recently rose on that Ninth and Jones Streets spot.
The Woolworth building, closer to the retail heart of the Old Market, shares a block with the popular M’s Pub building, which burned and now is being restored.
Structures on the three other corners of 12th and Howard Streets previously were approved for TIF, and those projects also helped update and preserve the intersection, said City Planner Bridget Hadley.
To Feddin, the Woolworth Lofts project stands as a symbol of his loyalty and fondness for a city he wasn’t born in but calls home.
“When you are so long in one community, you want to leave your mark,” Feddin said. “The way I built it, it’s so solid. It’s a beautiful thing to do for the Old Market, and it will bring revenue in for the city, too.”
His connection with the Woolworth began as a tenant, leasing ground-level space for his Billy Frogg’s bar and restaurant. He and partners bought the structure about 16 years ago, Feddin said, and he’s been sole owner for the past three years. (Other retailers he leases space to in the building are City Limits, Drastic Plastic Records and the Tea Smith.)
Transformation of the upper floors into the lofts and offices launched in 2015, with a boost from $3 million in state and federal historic tax credits and $1.35 million in city-approved TIF.
During a recent tour, Feddin pointed out amenities including views of the Old Market, new sprinkler systems and wide hallways.
Residents will be treated to concierge service. The lofts have a warehouse-industrial feel, but units have varied layouts along with high-end appliances, washers, dryers and walk-in closets.
The development does not include additional parking, but the Planning Department’s report says there are parking facility options in the immediate vicinity.
The report notes also that before the renovation, the majority of the Woolworth did not meet modern code requirements for commercial and residential users.
Alley Poyner’s Westman said designers aimed to maintain warehouse features of the 1920s and 1930s, including the integrity of window openings, exposed brick and wood. Structural work reinforced the exterior of the building and improved safety, he said.
“This gives a new life to the building, and not just in occupancy,” Westman said.
Feddin collected numerous photographs, some he shot himself, that document the building’s history and renovation. Such images will dot walls of the Lofts.
The project is to be completely done and open by November, Beller said. That’s a year behind the original projection.
Feddin said the delay resulted from adjustments he made that strengthened the building and increased costs. He wants his mark to be memorable and lasting.
“I own the building, and I’m going to do it right,” he said.