The century-old Strode Building at 1600 O St. has a long history of hosting car dealerships and auto repair shops.
When the two-story brick building opened in 1917, its first tenants were the Nebraska Oldsmobile Company and the Shore & Beach Automobile Company.
The building hosted a succession of automobile dealers until 1931, when for about a year, it served as what was likely Lincoln's first indoor miniature golf course, a business called the Circus.
By 1932, the building was again used by an automotive business, and it remained auto-oriented until the late 1960s, when it was sold to the owner of Merchandise Mart, a furniture store, which occupied the building for more than 30 years.
That business closed in 2001, and the building returned to its automotive roots when Kevin Gilbert and his wife, Sarah, bought it in 2002 and moved their auto repair business there.
Kevin Gilbert spent the next 15-plus years repairing and restoring European cars before deciding to retire and closing the business late last month.
But the building will soon have a new owner and new life.
Jeff Koepke, who owns BK Restoration, has a deal in place to buy the building and is planning a major redevelopment.
Koepke plans 13 market-rate apartments on the second floor of the building — a mix of studio, one- and two-bedroom units. On the first floor, there will be 5,000 square feet of commercial space along O Street, with 17 indoor parking spaces.
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"We're excited about it," said Koepke, whose company will do the restoration work itself. "Hopefully it will be a feather in the city's hat."
He said he's been searching for a couple of years for a building to buy and redevelop, and he heard about the Gilberts' building through word of mouth.
Koepke is hoping to use a range of tax incentives to help defray the cost of rehabbing the building. He has applied to have the building designated as a local landmark, which would make the project eligible to receive historic tax credits.
That designation got a nod Thursday from the city's Historic Preservation Commission and will go before the Planning Commission on Jan. 9.
Koepke said he also hopes to qualify for tax-increment financing, which allows the increased property taxes created by redevelopment to be reinvested into the project to pay for improvements that benefit the public.
He said he wants to keep "all the beautiful features" of the building while also paying homage to its automotive history.
Koepke said he plans to keep a car lift. Though it will be taken out of service, it will be maintained and featured in a public corridor.
He also said he will likely give the building a new name that has some connection to the automotive industry, "just because of the history."
Koepke said he hopes to get started working on the building early next year and have the project completed by the end of the year.
He does not yet have a tenant for the commercial space but said he's excited about the potential.
As for the residential portion of the project: "I know the apartments are going to be easy to rent."
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