Old plans for old properties on the books again

Published 12:30 am Saturday, April 9, 2011

Optimism about the economy and a change to how affordable housing tax credits are awarded in Mississippi have hopes high for renewed redevelopment plans at two long-vacant, historic Vicksburg buildings and in areas north and south of town where housing is depressed.

Lavish apartments for seniors at the Aeolian complex at Clay and Cherry streets and the old Carr Central High School exist on paper, but could be a reality if developers get a cut of income-based tax credits to start construction by year’s end.

“You’ll have a lot of seniors living downtown, shopping downtown,” said Jeremy Mears, of Houston-based Brownstone, in charge of an $8 million makeover of the Aeolian complex, built in 1924 as Vicksburg’s first fireproof apartment but empty since 1991.

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A refurbished Aeolian will have 60 one- and two-bedroom units on four levels with cable and Internet hookups, all within walking distance of an on-site storage space, a media room and a salon.

Parking became less of an issue this week, as a city zoning variance was granted to allow 60 off-street parking spaces instead of 120 for commercial properties. An empty lot at Cherry and China streets will become a paved, 42-space parking lot paired with 20 spaces for disability access in the garage below the complex, Mears said.

“We’ll meet all of the ADA codes that we need to,” said Mears, a Monroe native, adding a golf cart will take tenants from the larger parking lot to the building.

A dual-phased redux of the former Carr Central will result in 62 units for seniors with nearly identical amenities planned by Richard Helgeson, an Arizona-based developer in charge of developing what’s billed as the Rose of Vicksburg at the historic building.

“I’d love to age in an environment that’s desirable for seniors,” said Wes Holsapple, a Madison-based real estate broker who’s also helping Helgeson apply for credits to build the Rose of Jackson off Lynch Street near Metrocenter mall. Hossapple spoke during a public hearing Friday night at the Vicksburg Senior Center.

Windows at Carr Central and the Aeolian that are gone or have been broken by vandals may be replaced with stronger, double-pane protection — but must closely resemble all original architecture, in keeping with Mississippi Department of Archives and History regulations. Carr is a Mississippi Landmark and the Aeolian, though not designated as such, is also inside the city’s historic district.

Since Carr Central’s closure in 1979, multiple redevelopment plans by several owners have been attempted on the property with none coming to fruition. In 2009, North Carolina-based The Landmark Group was passed over for tax credits to outfit the building for a 58-unit, $8.6 million senior complex.

During Friday’s hearing, Holsapple said the $14 million complex plans pending to purchase the property tie them to owning it for 40 years. It would feature 46 units in a renovated version of the existing building and the rest in an addition at the rear. The utilities will be all-electric and units range from single-bed rooms up to 817 square feet to double-bed rentals up to 1,225 square feet.

The property is owned by the estate of Webber Brewer, who died in 2010. David Brewer, a local home builder, said his company is not involved in the construction plan, but Helgeson’s plan was the best of seven considered leading up to the hearing.

“This is the only way we’re going to be able to do Carr Central,” Brewer said, “through these tax credits.”

Sandra Shingler, who owns residential property for rent on Cherry Street, voiced a concern over whether the building would remain senior-oriented if occupancy was less than full in a few years.

Neither Helgeson nor a co-partner, Mary Childers of Quincy, Ill., could attend the meeting, Holsapple said.

“These things we will have to know,” said Shingler, one of three members of the public in attendance Friday.

A $7 million renovation of the abandoned Timber Creek apartments on Blossom Lane also depends on winning housing tax credits, as is a plan to build houses on Grove Street.

Pearl-based New Horizons Group Development wants rebuild the badly dilapidated structure into 52 new living areas, to be renamed Oak Ridge Apartments. The buildings were last marked for demolition in 2007 when the neighboring Apple Orchard complex was purchased by its current ownership group.

“Given the condition of the unit, it essentially will be a new construction,” said lead developer David L. Strange, who enlisted the help of District 1 Supervisor David McDonald and real estate agent and former North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young for advice on utilities and rounding up interest among low-income renters. The development has asked the city to tie into municipal water and sewer lines, which would add to utility bills.

Two dozen single-family town homes are proposed at 1604 Grove St. by Vicksburg Warren Housing Partners LP I. If awarded to the groups, tax credits will finance construction of the $3 million Cedar Grove Place community on an empty lot at the location, near Grove and Third North streets, said Kemmeka Davis of Tallulah-based Pride Community Association, half the firm’s partnership with Vicksburg-based Community Development Services.

Preliminary drawings show the spread over seven acres between Grove and Poplar streets, with one end of the street gated and a private drive running through the development. Davis and John Stuckey Jr. would manage it and Tallulah Estates, which was built in 2009.

“We have to be strict with it because we have to maintain the property,” Davis said.

Housing tax credits, or HTCs, are administered annually by the Mississippi Home Corporation and have funded residential developments where tenants pay rent on a sliding scale, based on a county’s area median income. It provides credits or reductions in tax liability each year for 10 years for owners and investors in affordable-income rental housing, based on the costs of development and the number of qualified affordable-income units. Developers have an April 29 deadline to submit applications, with awards expected by late August or early September, said Scott Spivey, vice president of corporate communications for MHC.

Typically, people eligible to live in a complex built and financed with affordable housing tax credits must earn less than 60 percent of a county’s area median income of $51,425, which translates to $30,855 for Warren County using the most recent income-related census data. Applications filled out by developers are graded on a point system of about 120, with mandatory items like public hearings and new criteria including the proportion of lower-income families and how much HTC-aided development has been awarded in a given county.

Credits available this year to developers statewide make up a smaller pool than what was awarded last year — $6.7 million versus more than $8 million. The housing industry and others familiar with the process in Mississippi say this year’s spate of applications in Vicksburg is spurred by a slowly recovering credit market and a new formula that rewards counties that hadn’t been awarded an HTC-aided project in a few years.

“The recession made a lot of these credits tenuous,” Spivey said. “A lot of developers just walked away.”

In 2006 and 2007, six developments sought cuts of more than $40 million in HTCs allocated as part of the Hurricane Katrina-inspired Gulf Opportunity Zone incentive package to build various low-cost housing in Vicksburg and Warren County. Five of the six were passed over while one, a renovation of the former Circle Lake apartments on Hope Street, was awarded and completed within two years.

Warren County is among the program’s 16 so-called “5-point counties” this year, due to two factors — a “qualified census tract” that takes in Vicksburg’s entire historic district and a swath along Clay Street to the Vicksburg National Military Park that indicate high numbers of people eligible to live in an HTC-aided development and a dearth of awards locally. Literally, it means an automatic five points on the test, Mears said.

“You also get points for doing a senior apartment development,” Mears said. “There’s that emphasis on historic properties this year.”

Another plus for applicants is energy-efficient appliances, such as tankless water heaters and ceiling fans in each living space both the renovated Timber Creek and the Grove Street community plan to feature.

Mears conceded developing housing units with any kind of low-income tax credits is a “very competitive business” and predicted either his or Helgeson’s senior-oriented proposal down the street would make the cut once applications are scored.

“Are there enough seniors to come rent them?” Mears said. “That’s the question.”

North Carolina-based Integra Development Partners, the firm that completed the Circle Lake project and renamed the complex Madison Glen, applied for tax credits in 2008 to construct senior apartments between Motel 6 and Battlefield Inn on I-20 Frontage Road. The group was passed over for tax credits, and a deal to purchase the land fell through.