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Developers have big plans for downtown

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The Republic Bank Building will be turned into 16 residential lofts

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Uptown going downtown

Developers have big plans for revitalizing core city

FLINT

THE FLINT JOURNAL FIRST EDITION

Sunday, May 02, 2004

By James M. Miller

[email protected], 810.766.6318FLINT -- Drawings have been done showing how the upper floors of the Republic Bank building will be divided into 16 apartments. Bids are being taken, a construction manager is in place and final details of the financing package were being put into place last week.

If everything goes as hoped, work will start this month with demolition of divider walls on the upper floors of the bank building, removal of old carpeting and general cleanup, said Scott Whipple.

Whipple is project manager for the Uptown Development group, which owns the building and six others downtown.

Tim Herman, head of the nonprofit Uptown Reinvestment Corp., said that if the financing is completed as planned, "We're thinking that by June, there's going to be a lot of construction going on in that building."

Once heating, air conditioning and plumbing systems are installed, the apartments can be finished.

Whipple, 41 and a resident of Grand Blanc Township, also is working on proposals for other buildings owned by Uptown Developments. The group includes eight partners and the Uptown Reinvestment Corp.

Before coming to Flint, Whipple worked as a project director for a Detroit developer, specializing in adaptive reuse of old buildings.

The Republic project is being financed in part with historic preservation tax credits and brownfield development tax credits. Whipple said those programs take a lot of time for paperwork and necessary approvals.

He said the Republic project probably will take about a year to complete.

Whipple and some architects also have been working on drawings for other buildings owned by Uptown Developments, and because they are smaller, some of them could be done sooner, he said.

Herman said the developers have been talking with potential tenants, and want signed lease agreements before starting construction on other projects.

"We feel we've got some real tenants, and we're close to inking some agreements for other buildings," he said.

Whipple said lease rates will vary, depending on the building and other factors.

"We know that we can't be charging these businesses, that are just getting their feet on the ground, with suburban lease rates," he said.

But, he added, "we're going to have to generate income from these properties in order to succeed."

Whipple has met with a committee named by mayor Don Williamson to advise him on issues relating to downtown. Herman said City Hall has an important role to play in the revitalization.

"I'm looking forward to working with Mayor Williamson and his staff, and I welcome the mayor's input," Herman said.

One drawing shows the Economy building restored the way it looked in the 1920s, and another shows the Classic Tailor building restored with a nearly round window on its upper floor -- identical to the one that was recently uncovered at Paul's Pipe Shop next door. The two building were built as one in 1890.

A design proposal shows the Classic Tailor building as a restaurant, with the vacant lot next door as an open-air dining area and the upper floor remodeled for office use.

Many of the Uptown buildings are old, but Whipple said they are sound.

"A lot of those buildings, they were built like fortresses," he said.

There are interesting details to be discovered; Whipple said they found stamped-tin ceilings above dropped ceilings at the former PSI building and a walnut ceiling in the Republic Bank building. When possible, details like those will be restored, he said.

Another drawing shows the former Metropolis facade restored the way it looked when it was built in the 1920s.

"To me, it's just a little art deco jewel ... ideally suited to a nightclub," Whipple said.

As part of the renovation, the exterior of the Republic building will be restored to look closer to its appearance when it was built. That means restoring arched windows and exterior columns on the first two floors, and an ornate cornice made of terra cotta.

***

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