Aeolian sold to California developer|[8/30/06]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A long-pending deal to sell the downtown Aeolian building to a California-based developer has been closed, its new owner said Tuesday.

Architect Mike Burgess, head of a group planning to convert the 82-year-old building at Clay and Cherry streets into upscale apartments, said about 80 units were planned by the end of next year.

&#8220We have not established an exact development schedule but expect to have them finished by the end of 2007,” Burgess said. &#8220We will be in town within the next few weeks to secure the building.

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&#8220We look forward to providing a positive contribution to the current surge of momentum and energy in the revitalization of the downtown area,” he continued.

The property had been owned by television station owner Frank Imes of Columbus, Miss., who conducted his end of the deal &#8220long distance,” said Pam Beard, a Realtor for BrokerSouth GMAC, who handled the sale.

Imes saved the Aeolian from the city wrecking ball when he bought the long-vacant building in 1999 and committed to restoring its facade. Constructed in 1924 and billed as Vicksburg’s first fireproof apartment dwelling, the structure had deteriorated into a home for vagrants, drug users and other crime. The last tenants moved out in 1991.

Work replacing the building’s 1,046 windows, cleaning out debris from inside and scraping peeling paint began shortly after Imes bought the building, but stopped soon after.

&#8220He’s excited about someone buying it who’s going to see the project through,” Beard said. &#8220We’re excited because we need rental property and those are going to make great apartments,” she added. &#8220It’s built where every apartment has great windows. Because it’s U-shaped, every apartment has a view of the courtyard…there’s not a dark apartment in the whole building.”

The deal included a vacant lot in the 1200 block of Cherry Street, a few properties from the Aeolian, Beard said. Negotiations are continuing on another nearby lot for parking, she said.

Local architect S.J. Tuminello has said he plans to oversee plans for the renovation. Burgess said he plans to meet with Tuminello when he comes to Mississippi.

Burgess was also bidding earlier this summer to buy the former Valley Dry Goods building to convert into condominiums, about three blocks from the Aeolian, but Mayor Laurence Leyens, who owns the department store building, said the deadline had passed on a pending contract with the group.

&#8220He’s still very interested, but whoever buys it buys it,” said Leyens, whose family operated what grew into the largest department store between New Orleans and Memphis on the site for about a century before it closed in 1983. &#8220It’s on the market as far as I’m concerned. He couldn’t do both projects at once.

&#8220But we’re very happy about the Aeolian,” he added. &#8220It’s a good deal.”

Leyens, who lived in California as a marketing analyst for health-care companies for 14 years before returning to Vicksburg in 1997, has emphasized he did not know Burgess or anyone in the group before he was approached about selling The Valley.

Neither The Valley nor the Aeolian was included in the city’s $5 million &#8220urban renewal” effort to revitalize neglected areas of historic downtown, completed in May.

The Aeolian is the second downtown residential development announced in a week. A group of local businessmen known as WMHS Downtown LLC completed its purchase of the vacant lot on Washington Street between Jackson and Grove streets. The group plans to build at least five townhouses in an initial phase, with more to follow.

Also downtown, owner Robert Ware continues to renovate 1412 and 1414 Washington into a hotel he will dub The Ware House, with seven suites and 10 vacation units.