The owner of two apartment buildings once built to house state senators but now used as low-income housing near the Capitol wants to complete an $8 million renovation of the buildings.
The President and Ambassador apartment buildings were built in 1928 and 1929 at the northwest corner of South 14th Street and Lincoln Mall, just to the west of the Capitol. A coalition of three Lincoln churches bought and renovated the historic apartments in the early 1990s to provide housing downtown for low-income people.
Now that coalition, the Interfaith Housing Coalition, wants to give the buildings a facelift.
“After 23 years, we’ve realized it needs improvement,” said Bob Lange, the coalition’s president.
A board of directors made up of representatives from St. Paul United Methodist Church, the Unitarian Church of Lincoln and First-Plymouth Congregational Church oversees the coalition. The coalition recently was awarded more than $6 million in low-income housing tax credits from the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority to help pay for the cost of the renovation.
The coalition also is seeking $400,000 in tax-increment financing from the city for the project. The Nebraska Capitol Environs Commission — which reviews projects near the Capitol — approved the coalition’s request for TIF funds this week.
“They’re very handsome buildings in spectacular locations,” said Ed Zimmer, the city’s historic preservation planner.
The city-county Planning Commission, City Council and mayor must now sign off on the project.
The apartment buildings have 84 units, mostly very small efficiency apartments, many with fold-out Murphy beds. The renovation will focus on interior changes, making most of the units larger by tearing down walls between units and expanding them.
When completed, the buildings will have 71 units, with a greater number of one-bedroom apartments than the smaller efficiency units.
“Every apartment will change,” said Paula Rhian of Excel Development Group, the project’s developer. “Most of them will get bigger.”
She said the renovation won’t change the building’s exterior much, though it will reinstall a historic awning once on the east side of the President. The developer also plans to replace the buildings' roofs.
The developer plans to preserve arched ceilings in the President’s first-floor hallway, as well as stairways in both buildings. However, the company plans to transform phone niches now in many of the units into charging stations for phones and computers.
“You’ll still have the feel of the historic unit while making it a functional modern amenity,” Rhian said.
The developer plans to replace dorm-size refrigerators and small stoves with full-size refrigerators and stoves. The company also plans to replace the buildings’ heating and cooling systems, plumbing and electricity.
The company plans to reconfigure a courtyard between the two buildings to have more seating for tenants and aesthetically pleasing plantings, as well as a fence to shield the courtyard from the sidewalk. An arched gateway would be built leading into the courtyard.
The developer plans to start construction in July and complete the project within two years after that.
Sixty-eight tenants now live there. Tenants will be moved to other units within the complex while work is being completed on their apartments, Rhian said.
“No one is going to be relocated off the property,” she said.
The coalition plans to charge $390 a month for the efficiency units and $440 a month for one-bedroom units, slightly more than what it charges for the units now.
Because the 1990s renovation of the buildings used low-income housing tax credits, the owner is required to rent rooms only to people whose income is below 60 percent of the median area income.
“A lot of these folks really wouldn’t have anywhere else to go,” Rhian said.