|Neighbors Of Watertown, Inc - News & Articles||
By: Craig Fox, Times Staff Writer | October 25, 2011
'A big project': Building on the Square adding apartments, store space
Brent J. Lewis acknowledges that he’s not getting rich, even though he’s in the middle of a $1 million renovation project at his Rent-A-Zone building on the north side of Public Square.
“My wife kids me that I’m still driving an old dilapidated car,” Mr. Lewis said during a tour of the construction project that includes creating seven upstairs apartments and remodeling the rent-to-own business’s showroom at 101 and 103 Public Square.
Mr. Lewis said the importance of supporting downtown is why he’s investing $400,000 in the renovation project.
Reginald J. Schweitzer, Neighbors of Watertown deputy director, said he is impressed with the businessman’s commitment to downtown, noting that the project could spur similar work on other buildings on that side of Public Square.
Mr. Schweitzer has been advising Mr. Lewis on the project, which is part of Neighbors’ efforts to add more upstairs apartments along both sides of Public Square and in the downtown business district.
In all, a total of 40 apartments in five buildings will have been added in that area during the past two years.
“Our main goal is getting space that’s not being used,” Mr. Schweitzer said.
Other buildings with new upper-floor units include 16 in the restored Franklin Building, 10 under way in the Abbey Carpet building at 150 Court St. and four in the Cahill building at 14 Court St. Three in the Wing Wagon building that had not been used in years were gutted and modernized.
Mr. Lewis said his project should be finished in about six weeks.
“It looks really good up there,” Mr. Lewis said. “It’s really coming along.”
As with the other building owners participating in the program, these units will be “rent-restrictive” — the amount of rent for eligible tenants must meet affordable housing guidelines — for the first 10 years. Neighbors has been offering help to building owners, including Mr. Lewis, with facade improvements under the New York Main Street facade program.
All of that work equals an influx of $1,738,000 in investment from private, local and state money, Mr. Schweitzer said. The funding includes $330,000 from the state’s Community Development Block Grant; $390,000 from the Division of Housing and Community Renewal; and the Watertown Local Development Corp. contributing $256,000 in low-interest loans and $632,000 in private financing as well as $130,000 from a New York Main Street grant for facade work.
Those 40 apartments do not include the 60 market-rate units for the proposed restoration of the Woolworth building, or real estate developer Robert J. Havens III’s plan to invest $1 million to transform a former commercial building at 311 State St. into 11 high-end apartments.
The Rent-A-Zone project includes two two-bedroom, three one-bedroom and two studio apartments in the four-story building in space that has always been used for storage, Mr. Lewis said.
Tenants can either climb a set of stairways to their upper-floor apartments or gain access from an elevator at the back of the structure. The units will be air-conditioned and have washer and dryer hookups. Featuring lots of large windows, the units also will have views of Public Square or the Black River.
The Rich & Gardner Construction Co., Syracuse, is the general contractor for the project and GYMO Architecture, Engineering and Land Surveying, Watertown, worked on its design.
The building, constructed in 1950, is a Public Square anchor business and has high visibility on three main streets: Public Square, Black River Parkway and Mill Street, Mr. Lewis said.
“It’s definitely a big project,” he said.
Besides the apartments, the Rent-A-Zone showroom also is getting a makeover and will double in size, from about 2,000 square feet to 4,000 square feet in the adjacent storefront that housed the Apex Army & Navy store that Mr. Lewis purchased two years ago.
Mr. Lewis, who also owns Rent-A-Zone stores in Oswego, Fulton and Wolcott and two health food stores, Mustard Seed Natural Food Markets in Oswego and Camillus, purchased the four-story building in 1999.
His businesses are profitable, he said, but they are not turning him into another Donald Trump.
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