The Wilson Times

Monday, February 11, 2013 10:46 PM

Downtown project features loft living, retail
Residential moves into heart of business district

By Jon Jimison | Times Editor

It’s a first for downtown Wilson, a project mixing retail development and residential living under the same roof.

Officials say Nash Street Lofts will be a significant step forward and may be followed by similar projects.

CommunitySmith, a Raleigh-based commercial real estate firm specializing in public-private partnerships, purchased the 129-year-old, three-story building at 215 E. Nash St. in the heart of downtown.

Following redevelopment, officials said, the brick building built in 1884 will feature 13 units available for rent. Eleven units will be residential lofts ranging from around 500 to 1,000 square feet.

Two first-floor units will be designed for use as "live-work” retail spaces such as coffee shops, yoga studios or art galleries, officials said.

The nearly 13,000-square-foot brick building was originally part of the Hackney Wagon Co.’s carriage manufacturing complex. After 1913, it was used for a number of retail businesses, most recently Western Auto.

"We’re really excited about this,” said Kimberly Van Dyk, Wilson downtown manager. "It’s going to be a significant investment.”

This type of mixed-use development is a key component to redeveloping downtown, Van Dyk said. It was also addressed in the city’s recently adopted unified development ordinance.

"We wanted the flexibility in uses in the downtown area,” Van Dyk said. "It’s already paving the way and we already have the results.”

Downtown and CommunitySmith officials have been working on this project for about six months.

"We need a strong residential component to be successful in downtown redevelopment efforts,” Van Dyk said, "to make downtown a neighborhood again.”

While this is the first project of its kind, it will not be the last, Van Dyk said. Others are expected to follow.

All this opens up the downtown area for more pedestrian traffic and feeds into the November 2013 opening of the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, which officials hope will draw more and more developers downtown.

Van Dyk said the whirligig project was the talk of a recent conference she attended.

CommunitySmith and Winston-Salem-based Rehab Development purchased the building from Wilson Downtown Properties. The transaction included federal Housing and Urban Development and Environmental Protection Agency funding. The sale closed Feb. 1, but financial terms were not disclosed.

Rehab Builders Inc., a design-build construction company specializing in rehabilitating historic buildings, will head up construction, officials said. Its affiliate, Rehab Engineering, will manage the engineering. Dunn and Dalton of Kinston will serve as architects for the project, which should be completed by late this year.

CommunitySmith is a private development organization that specializes in identifying commercial properties in the region that are candidates for redevelopment, officials said.

Holton Wilkerson, CommunitySmith managing partner, said the group had heard great things about both Wilson and downtown Wilson from boosters in other areas of the state.

So they traveled here and toured downtown.

"We are really excited,” Wilkerson said. "With the arts factor and the Whirligig Park and the arts-driven economy of sorts, we found it more and more attractive.”

Wilkerson pointed out this project offers market-rate apartments for rent. The two ground-floor apartments will offer live-work units split roughly 50/50.

"It’s a home and storefront in one unit combined,” Wilkerson said. "The building has incredible historic character.”

Officials want to blend the historic aspects of the building with all new plumbing, mechanical and electrical amenities.

If all goes well, there could be future projects in Wilson involving CommunitySmith, Wilkerson said.

Even though officials aren’t disclosing financial costs of the project, Wilkerson did say availability of some HUD and EPA funding can make a difference in projects such as this one.

"This project is exactly what the City Council wants to see happen in historic downtown Wilson,” Wilson Mayor Bruce Rose said. "They will be restoring a beautiful building, and more people living in downtown will help restaurants and businesses succeed. This is why we need to save our downtown buildings whenever possible.”

Henry Walston called the announcement exciting.

"The Nash Street Lofts economic development project validates longtime downtown professional and retail establishments, the many new businesses that have opened or relocated to historic downtown Wilson in the past few years, and it encourages other forward-thinking entrepreneurs that historic downtown Wilson is rapidly reinventing itself into a vibrant, new commercial and residential neighborhood,” said Walston, Wilson Downtown Development Corporation president, WDP board member, and Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park project chairman. | 265-7813

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