Rock City Lofts on schedule, on budget
By Joseph Slacian | The Paper of Wabash County
The Rock City Lofts project is on schedule and on budget.
That’s what Brent Mather told the Wabash City Council on Monday night, March 13, during an update on the Stellar Community Grant project.
The project seeks to create 42 senior citizen apartments in the building on the south side of East Market Street, Mather, of R&B Architecture, reminded the council.
He called the project “an infused project.”
“It’s an opportunity for housing to return above Market Street in downtown Wabash,” he said, “as well as the retention real estate with the Rock City Café, and other store fronts.”
The Rock City Café will continue to be located in the building, and the Dallas L. Winchester Senior Center will house an annex in the site.
“It is a mixed-use project that includes senior living up above in 42 apartments that are partly funded by the (Indiana Housing Community Development Authority),” Mather continued. “Ultimately, it’s a federal program where Section 42 HUD money is given to developers who create high-quality housing for people who make a moderate income in your community. Usually about 60 percent of your average income of residents in Wabash.”
Of the 42 units, there will be four handicapped apartments on the first floor.
“So, we’re also able to serve a population that might not be served other places,” he said. “People who may be currently living in their homes and having a difficult time with a large house, or accessibility, that would take an opportunity to come into your very vibrant downtown.”
But there is a wider-reaching aspect of the project, he continued.
“If people are oversized in their homes, they can retire in place, live in place as they go through their retirement in the same community, and not be forced to leave for other communities where they don’t have the support networks, the friends, the family,” Mather said.
Mather, during his 10-minute talk, looked at the history of the building, noting that it was originally two buildings with six parcels.
“It’s had everything from a Maytag washer repair store to a small theater … most recently it’s been the site of your Bureau of Motor Vehicles,” he said.
Designers studied early photos of the structure to see what it had originally and what changed during 120 years.
Ornate toppings on the roof have disappeared over the years, and the second and third floors have undergone changes along the windows.
The most noticeable changes, he said, have been along the storefronts.
“The first floor storefront when originally constructed was made out of wood with large plates of glass,” Mather said. “This showed the wealth and opulence that Wabash was enjoying as a connection between the railroad and the then-dwindling canal. Pieces of flat glass were extremely expensive, hard to transport, likely to break, likely to be broken by the buggies kicking up cobbles from the street. So this was really a sign you had wealthy merchants that were displaying large quantities of produce or large merchandise for the people here in Wabash.”
Demolition work began in October and, within the last two months, work on the exterior exposed architectural details that were covered over or changed through the years.
One of the details found was a Moorish archway over one of the doorways, surrounded by rounded brick and 15 electrical bulb sockets.
“We’re very excited to find things like this,” Mather said. “The general contractor starts worrying about where did the budget go when crazy architects find things like this.”
About 20 percent of the funds come from a grant for historical preservation, and additional money from the City of Wabash is for historical preservation, he told council members.
“What that means is that when we find parts and pieces that we didn’t know were there, we are bound to actually restore them,” he said. “So, over the last couple months when we find something like this, we immediately begin revising architectural drawings.”
The project budget had a 10 percent contingency built in, just for those reasons, he added, and that has kept costs on track.
Mayor Scott Long asked what, if anything, was found inside the buildings?
“There were quite a lot of things that weren’t a part of the building,” Mather said. “There were quite a lot of signs. In the basement was a set of leather-strap-run paddle fans. Think of an ice cream parlor where each fan had one motor at the end and a leather strap that ran them.”
Other remnants included various parts and pieces of Maytag machinery.