RACINE — An $18 million, 77-unit workforce housing complex is set to come to the Uptown area, a project that will preserve and restore the two historic Gold Medal Camp Furniture Manufacturing Co. buildings.
On Thursday, standing between the two former factory buildings at 1700 and 1701 Packard Ave., Mayor Cory Mason officially announced the future Gold Medal Flats project and welcomed Joshua Jeffers, president of J. Jeffers & Co., and his development team.
“Here we are in this great opportunity to redevelop what was once a historic factory into historic housing to help build up Racine,” Mason said.
“We just don’t build buildings like this anymore,” he said. “… These are places that people want to be. These are buildings that are worth saving.”
“The other reason it’s important,” Mason said, “is it’s another step forward to stabilize and revitalize Uptown. It’s one of our major commitment areas.”
“We have this thing about bringing pride and hope to people through strategic real estate investment,” said Melissa Goines, vice president of development at J. Jeffers.
Mason noted that this announcement comes shortly on the heels of the Jacquet Midwest announcement. Just four weeks earlier, the manufacturer announced a $12 million, two-phase relocation to Southside Industrial Park.
Jeffers had said last fall that he wanted to redevelop the Gold Medal buildings which sit at Uptown’s southern edge and immediately north of Southside Industrial Park. With the awarding of various tax credits, his team can proceed. Because the process of fully obtaining the tax credits takes months, his company is set to close in January on the purchase of the two 1894 buildings for a total of about $2.5 million. Construction is to start next March, and Jeffers expects to complete construction by the end of next year.
“About half of what J. Jeffers & Co. does is historic preservation and adaptive reuse,” Jeffers said. “It’s something that I have a personal passion for, to see great buildings like these get restored and a second lease on life for another 125 years.”
Jeffers said the project will take advantage of and preserve the structures’ Cream City brick walls, high ceilings, old-growth timbers and skywalk which connects the two buildings.
“This is phase one of a broader plan to develop both of these buildings,” Jeffers said. Pending how well the first one does, the company would then begin redeveloping the second one. Although that building is smaller, at 30,000 square feet, it sits on a larger land parcel and would lend itself to new construction as well as redevelopment of the existing building, Jeffers said.
“Historic preservation is a wonderful thing, but it’s always great when we can combine it with some new construction, some new investment as well,” he said.
In a highly competitive process, Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority awarded the Gold Medal Flats project a total of about $5.8 million in tax credits over 10 years; the result is that 65 of the 77 apartments will be considered “affordable,” with rents based on 60 percent, 50 percent and 30 percent of median county income; and 12 will be at market rate.
According to census data from 2016, the median household income in Racine County is $56,359, with a per capita median income of $28,436. In the City of Racine, the median household income is $41,178, with a per capita median income of $20,793.
The poverty rate in Racine County is 13.6 percent, while the rate for the city is 21.9 percent.
Median rent in the county is $808, while in the city the median rent is down to $775.
“Affordable housing is not a dirty word,” said 3rd District Alderman John Tate II, in whose district the project will be built. “Housing that isn’t affordable isn’t accessible, isn’t useful.”
“Competition for these tax credits is intense, it’s fierce,” said WHEDA Board Chairman Ivan Gamboa. “We award them to the projects that add the most to the community.”
The Gold Medal Flats project will also receive $3.4 million in federal and the same amount in state historic preservation tax credits.
The city also is providing a financial stake to help spur the Gold Medal Flats project. To incentivize the development of workforce housing, the city is providing a $720,000 low-interest loan, funded by community development block grants within the city’s multifamily revolving loan program. The funds will be used for property acquisition.
Jeffers will redevelop the 90,000-square-foot east building, which is the larger one, first to create 77 apartments. He talked a bit about the buildings’ history when workers produced wooden-and-canvas cots and chairs for the military during the two world wars and built director chairs for Hollywood. Furniture made in the buildings was exported it all over the world.
J. Jeffers is partnering with Lutheran Social Services to ensure that the needs of the community are met with the development. Tenant management is planned through Horizon Management Services.
The housing mix within Gold Medal Flats will consist of three studio units, 35 one-bedroom apartments, 16 two-bedroom units and 23 three-bedroom apartments.
Monthly rents, with tenants paying all utilities, will range from $280 for the smallest studio apartment to $840 for the largest three-bedroom apartment, depending on income. The only market-rate apartments planned are one bedrooms for $800.
The building will also have 2,900 square feet of amenity space consisting of an exercise room and a club room, Jeffers said.
Even with the onset of construction still half a year away, J. Jeffers & Co. is already taking steps toward its next Racine project. Jeffers said his company is buying three properties in the former Horlick’s Malted Milk complex in the 2200 block of Northwestern Avenue and contemplating a mixed-use redevelopment project there.
Note: The original story had the wrong WHEDA official's name with a quote. The error has been corrected.