Robertson renovations: city targets early 2015 finish date

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By Brandon Mattingly

Springfield city officials are looking to move forward quickly with renovations to the Robertson building on Main Street, expecting to have construction plans completed by May 1.

A public meeting was held last week for members of the community to hear details about the proposed changes and to ask questions relating to the commercial section of the facility.

Project Developer Johan Graham was on hand to share what changes can be expected, and he expressed hopes of putting the project out to bid in May so construction can get under way by mid-July.

“If we can start in July, I think we can be done in January or February,” Graham said.

Getting started this summer is of course contingent upon Springfield receiving a Community Development Block Grant that would account for the final $779,000 of the $1,864,810 project. Officials, however, are confident that the city will be awarded the grant and aren’t waiting around to put a plan in place.

The building will consist of seven residential units and an estimated 2,000 sq. ft. area on the main floor for commercial use. Last week’s meeting shed light on what will and what likely will not be allowed to occupy the commercial space. Graham said restaurants were not a possibility because of the business potentially having access to only one exit (at the front of the building), a lack of table space and difficulties with fire and venting separation from the residential units.

Other food service businesses such as a coffee shop or catering service were not outright rejected as possibilities, though all indications are that building codes would likely block those industries as well.

The possibility of splitting the commercial space in half to accommodate two separate businesses was also entertained, though City Administrator Laurie Smith warned that it would reduce the work spaces to around 900 and 780 sq. ft., respectively. However, she asked anyone interested in leasing or renting the space to see for themselves what they would have to work with.

“We would encourage anybody who’s interested to go look at the space,” she said. “I think it gives you a better sense of the size of the space when you’re in there.”

Whether the commercial area is to hold one or two businesses, Smith added that the anticipated rent will be a minimum of $850 per month.

According to Smith, that would allow the city to repay the cost of loans and investments made in roof repairs within seven years by paying back just under $400 per month. Excess funds would go into a revolving loan fund, which has contributed $20,000 to downtown businesses such as Frames on Main, Gloria’s Wear and Share, Cecconi’s Restaurant, Mordecai’s Restaurant and others.

“If we could make that maybe two, three or four times that big, which we could if this turns out how we think it could, that’s going to give us a lot more money to offer to potential new businesses,” Smith said.

Residential units

The residential spaces will come with income limitations at 80 percent of the area mean—around $32,000—or less, with rent ranging from $325 to $575 per month depending on the size of the unit.

Four one-bedroom apartments will be located above the commercial area, while two-bedroom units will be stacked at the rear of the building. One of the two-bedroom apartments will be handicap accessible. Graham assured that residents won’t be bothered by the day-to-day interactions of their business-owner neighbors.

“We’ve worked with the fire marshal and the state code people to try to get all of those units to access one common stairway in the back of the building and separate the commercial area off of that so they don’t have any interaction with each other,” he said.

As far as maintenance is concerned, the city and the building’s occupants will share responsibility. The city will handle any general maintenance to the building, which includes snow removal, treatment of the exterior windows and structural work. Any problems that arise within the individual unit itself, such as plumbing issues, will be the responsibility of the tenant.

Some in attendance questioned how much parking would be available for residents, business owners and customers, but Smith assured them that there is ample space available surrounding the building. Aside from public spots available along Main Street, Smith said the side entrance that will frequently be used by residents is just across the road from the judicial center’s parking area, which is reserved as a public lot through an agreement made when the city donated the property.

It was also noted that there are seven to 10 spaces along Ballard Street that could be deemed Robertson building parking if necessary.

Historical preservation

Graham said one of the most important things to consider during the renovation is the building’s past and ensuring that its landmark features remain intact.

“You can’t just come in and chop things down, cover up windows and tear down the staircase,” he said. “We have to do an accurate and historic job on the building to maintain it as it is and restore it to its former glory.”

Among the cosmetic changes that guests will notice will be bricked off windows being re-opened to allow maximum natural light, refinishing of the wood floor on the main level and work on the store front. He is currently working with the Kentucky Heritage Council to restore the building’s store front, noting that he has photographs of the original look prior to changes being made around the 1930s.

A big question was the fate of the historic wooden staircase in the rear of the building, but Graham said it will remain a prominent feature of the building, only seeing potential changes to quail safety concerns.
“The only modification to the stairway is that there’s a platform off to the side that’s not original and will come off and it will reconnect to the outside door,” Graham said. “We have to meet with the fire marshal and the historic preservation office, because the rail on that stair is uncomfortably low; it’s about at my knee level. It’s a little lower than I’d like it to be for safety purposes.”

A committee of John Wharton, Frank Peters and Laurie Smith was named at last week’s city council meeting to review all of the information on hand and to make a recommendation to the council some time in April.

Anyone with ideas or questions regarding the renovation are encouraged to contact city hall.