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Tobacco row apartment project nears completion

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Neil Johnson
April 20, 2012

— Does your home have 120-year-old wooden support beams that jut from the walls in the kitchen and bathroom?

How about 9-foot windows with marble ledges?

Or a living room wall built of painted brick from an old cigar billboard?

If you’re leasing an apartment in the new 16-unit Edgerton Tobacco Lofts, it does.

The apartments at 315 W. Fulton St. just west of downtown Edgerton are almost complete and many are rented, building owner Dan Rinehart said this week. They’re housed in a two-story, 1890s tobacco warehouse used to store and cure tons of tobacco during the city’s tobacco heyday.

Like many of Edgerton’s defunct tobacco warehouses, the building’s vine-choked, crumbling walls and knocked-out windows had seen better days.

Rinehart, who since 2003 has owned the 19,000-square-foot building along with two other tobacco warehouses in Edgerton, has brought the place back from the brink.

Since this past fall, a crew of dozens of contractors have re-shingled the building’s 10,000-square-foot roof, cut in dozens of new windows, built a front deck and repaired a brick façade that was literally sliding off of the building.

And that’s just the exterior work.

The first and second floors of the warehouse are divided into 1,100-square-foot units. Each is a two-bedroom apartment with appliances. They have high ceilings and a contemporary design that blends with the building’s original architecture.

The architecture leaves intact some of the building’s original features, such as brick walls and massive wooden support beams designed to bear the weight of tons of tobacco.

Some of the beams have stenciled lot numbers for tobacco inventorying. Others have calculations scrawled in pencil by warehouse workers.

Rinehart, who runs a taxidermy company in Edgerton, is financing the bulk of the $1.3 million project.

The city gave the project a boost last year with a $260,000 economic development loan. City officials have said they’re optimistic the development will boost commerce in downtown Edgerton.

The apartments will house 30 to 35 tenants who’ll be a short walk from downtown.

Most of those who have signed leases are young, professional couples who commute from Rock County to Madison, Rinehart said. Many are relocating from Janesville and Beloit.

“For the most part, it’ll be people who weren’t here before,” Rinehart said.

Rinehart has rented all but five of the apartments. He believes the demand for rentals is strong and will remain so for several years until the struggling real estate market improves.

Price is a big draw for the apartments, too, Rinehart said. He charges $750 to $790 a month for a two-bedroom unit.

Rinehart admits at it’s been surreal at times to walk through the converted warehouse and kick up drywall dust instead of century-old dirt.

“I fluctuate between excitement and terror,” he said. “That’s mostly when crews aren’t in here. I come in and walk around, and it’s like, wow.”

And then he realizes he’s only half-finished.

When the apartments are complete, likely by June, Rinehart plans to rehab a second warehouse he owns next door at 401 W. Fulton St.

Plans are tentative, but Rinehart said it will be more apartments. He plans to remove a crumbling addition and convert the space into parking and an open lawn.

One part of the ruins—a huge iron boiler once used in the tobacco-curing process—will stay put. Rinehart wants to preserve it as a piece of history and community art.

“It just screams massive, history, industrial revolution,” Rinehart said.

Rinehart said that it’s an overwhelming, humbling experience to see one of his old warehouses get transformed into something useful again. It’s part of what’s pushing him to move straight into the second warehouse conversion.

“As much as I’d like to take a break, the right thing to do is to go forward as quick as possible,” he said. “This needs to be tobacco row again.”


 
 

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