Janesville80.2°

Downtown housing a key part of city’s redevelopment strategy

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JAMES P. LEUTE
April 25, 2008
— Households are getting smaller.

More residents are nearing retirement.


The young adult market is growing.


And incomes are rising.


Taken together, a consultant says, those trends make downtown Janesville ripe for new types of housing to meet the needs of a growing and changing population.


The downtown housing market is part of a redevelopment strategy unveiled last fall by the city and its consultant. About 64 percent of the downtown’s housing units are renter occupied, and most are rented at affordable, often subsidized rates.


The demand for better quality housing downtown appears to be supported by the success of the Marshall Apartments, which opened in 1999.


Madison-based Stone House Development renovated a portion of the former junior and senior high school on South Main Street into 55 one- and two-bedroom apartments.


“We’ve been running really strong since we opened,” said Kasie Setterlund, Stone House’s director of operations.


Since 1997, Marshall’s rental rate has averaged about 97 percent, she said.


Sixty percent of the apartments are classified as “affordable” or “income-eligible,” meaning rents are based on a person’s income. The remaining apartments are “market-rate” and are priced on competitive basis.


“There’s definitely a market in Janesville, but you have to have the product,” Setterlund said. “Our apartments are fabulous, with hardwood floors and all the amenities, and some are more than 2,000 square feet.”


Cindy Castagna considers the market-rate apartment she has for rent at 117 1/2 W. Milwaukee St. fabulous, too.


The Whitewater woman bought the two-story property in 2004. A law office occupies the first floor.


She remodeled what was once a Jaycees clubhouse and installed new electrical, plumbing, heating and air-conditioning systems that run through exposed ductwork.


The 1,500-square-foot one-bedroom apartment has a massive living room with a gas fireplace, maple floors, plastered walls with a suede accents, 10- to 12-foot ceilings and a washer and dryer. Skylights and interior wall cutouts complement windows on the north and south ends.


“It’s perfect for young professionals or empty nesters who want to live downtown,” she said.


The apartment is available for $750 per month.


Castagna’s target market reflects trends uncovered by the city’s consultant:


-- The number of county residents between ages 55 and 85 will grow by 5,000 by 2012.


-- The 20- to 35-year-old population is expected to increase by 7,500.


Castagna and Setterlund acknowledge that Janesville has an abundance of rental options.


Castagna said some potential renters may not be interested in a one-bedroom at her price. Setterlund said Stone House has had more trouble renting its 26 income-eligible River Terrace Apartments on North River Street than it has with the Marshall Apartments.


“Janesville has a lot to offer, and you can rent pretty reasonably in Janesville,” Setterlund said. “At Riverview, some people may not like the fact that it’s an older building that wasn’t really designed to meet today’s needs.


“Some people just want newer construction, and there’s plenty of that available.”


But not in downtown Janesville, which the consultant said must market its housing as a lifestyle that includes amenities such as unique shops and restaurants.


A revitalized downtown is exactly what Jim Alverson hopes to capitalize on with his renovation of the second story of 220 W. Milwaukee St. into a 1,300-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment.


Alverson, who bought the building in December, is combining money from city loan programs with personal funds for the $30,000 project. It, too, will target young professionals or empty nesters.


Because of his loans through a new city program, Alverson must make the apartment available on an “income-eligible” basis.


“With the new loan program, the city has recognized that there’s more value downtown when there are additional revenue streams,” said Doug Venable, the city’s economic development manager.


Alverson, who owns Home Again downtown and rents six other apartments that straddle West Milwaukee Street, said there’s definitely a market for people who work downtown and like the energy associated with revitalization efforts.


“I just think that we need to better utilize our upper levels and upgrade the stock of apartments to make the downtown a more welcome place for anyone, regardless of their income level,” Alverson said.


Nancy and Bob Kimball also hope to be a part of that energy, although they’re taking a slightly different approach.


The Kimballs for years have rented 12 apartments above 113-117 E. Milwaukee St. to a variety of business executives with short-term housing needs.


They plan to convert the apartments to condominiums and sell them, perhaps one floor at a time.


“I think they would appeal to first-time buyers, young couples or singles who maybe work downtown and like the lifestyle,” Nancy Kimball said.


Downtown grocery store plans on track

Plans for a new Five Points grocery store and retail center could pick up steam in the next few weeks.


Hendricks Development Group in 2005 bought the former Connor’s Supply building at 216 Center Ave. and announced plans for a development anchored by the grocery store that would serve the demographics of the neighborhood.


Connors moved its operation into the former Ott Schweitzer Distributing building at 607 S. Arch St.


The city and the developer negotiated a TIF agreement for the project, the centerpiece of which is a 15,000-square-foot grocery store.


“That’s been the hold-up, getting a new anchor tenant to sign on,” said Mark Membrino of the Beloit-based development group.


“I had a good meeting last week with a grocery store, and while nothing’s in writing, I think we’re pretty close to a deal.”


Once an agreement is signed, demolition will continue in earnest, he said, adding that the project also has been slowed because workers must remove more asbestos than originally thought.


Membrino said demolition should wrap up by the end of the year.


In addition to the grocery store, the project also is expected to include a 3,000-square-foot space for Cherry’s Steak & Prime. Several other suites will be available for office or retail lease.



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