Vehicles drive past the Monterey Hotel in downtown Janesville in January.

Believe it or not, it appears the Monterey Hotel soon will be filled with people again.

The significance of the city and developers agreeing on a plan for the iconic downtown building is difficult to overstate. While Janesville should be proud of its downtown revitalization, all those improvements have come with a question: But what about the Monterey Hotel?

Well, now we have an answer.

The seven-story building at the corner of Milwaukee and High streets will be converted into 51 apartments and first-floor commercial space with $1.7 million in pay-as-you go help from the city.

The Monterey Apartments, as they will be called, is only the most recent example of how Janesville’s housing market has been flourishing despite the pandemic.

As Neil Johnson reports in today’s edition, the number of permits for new single-family housing starts jumped by more than 50% this year in Rock County. In some spots—including Janesville—homebuilding activity more than doubled compared to the last few years.

City officials recognized a lack of housing as an issue in Janesville more than two years ago and hosted a “housing summit” for representatives of government and the private sector to discuss the issue. Janesville Economic Development Director Gale Price recalled conversations with new employees of SHINE Medical Technologies and other companies who said they couldn’t find a place to live in Janesville.

“When we meet with potential companies that are looking at the area, the first thing they ask is, ‘Where is the labor coming from? Who are we going to hire? Are they here, or are they going to travel in?’” Price said.

“It diminishes the ability of companies to recruit if we don’t have housing availability,” he said.

And so Janesville for the first time started offering financial incentives for developers to build apartment buildings in Janesville.

“It will affect everything across the board if we can’t provide the housing for our workforce. That’s what’s driven our participation on the apartment projects,” Price said.

Now, two and a half years later, the city has two new apartment projects that are full, and a developer has moved up construction of an additional apartment building by a year.

The pandemic, ironically, might actually be helping the local housing market. Price said he has heard local examples of people moving from the Chicago area to Janesville and working their Chicago jobs remotely.

“I’m making my downtown Chicago salary, but I’m living in Janesville—that’s like getting another raise,” Price said.

When the pandemic is over, Janesville will be well on its way to having its housing shortage fixed and will be poised for growth.

After $9.4 million in remodeling, the Monterey Hotel turned Monterey Apartments will be ready, too. The deal with the city calls for the project to be finished by March 2022.

Redevelopment of the hotel will remove a question mark from discussions about the viability of downtown revitalization and, as some city council members hope, spur redevelopment on West Milwaukee Street.