POSTED ON JULY 21, 2010:
Lofty Dreams Deferred
Unfinished, one of downtown's first loft projects looks for new life and more dough
Budget Buster. Going high end from the git-go, the First Street Lofts project would include 18 apartments featuring geo-thermal air, heirloom hardwood flooring, salvaged brick, enormous glass windows and location, location, location.
Even as two new residential projects -- the Mayo Building and the Detroit Lofts -- prepare to open their doors during the next several weeks, bringing dozens of new living units to downtown Tulsa, another long-awaited residential project appears close to getting back on track.
Developer Michael Sager, who began work on the First Street Lofts at 310 E. 1st St. in March 2007, said the project has been on hold for the past several months because his financing dried up in the credit crisis. But he said he has been pursuing new funding for the project and anticipates having it secured soon.
"We're confident we'll be back on line shortly and have this finished," he said.
Sager estimated the First Street Lofts would be back under full-scale construction within 120 days, with the build-out slated for six months. Under that timetable, the project would open in the spring of 2011.
Approximately 60 percent of the work already has been performed, he said, and the halt in construction has allowed Sager to secure many of the other design documents and permits he needed to finish, he said.
"We're very much alive and well," he said.
Interest in Sager's project has persisted because it received $1.3 million in Vision 2025 funds as the developer set about renovating the former Jacobs Hotel into 18 high-end loft apartments. Still, more than three years after work started on the project, it has yet to add a single resident to downtown.
A number of upgrades to the original design were incorporated last summer -- including the addition of another 4,000 square feet in living space, energy-efficient insulation, recycled hardwood flooring, salvaged brick that will replace sheet rock, enormous glass portals that will replace the six planned metal balconies on the front of the building, and a fully finished, 49-person deck with a lighthouse-type stairwell capping the five-story structure -- at a cost of $1 million.
Since then, Sager said he has decided to drill geothermal wells to provide heating and cooling for the building, another energy-efficient touch that will add approximately $250,000 to the cost.
Sager's original budget was $3 million without all those improvements, but he has said the project has benefitted from falling construction and fire-suppression prices, providing him with the margin to incorporate those upgrades.
Leases for the units will begin at $850 a month and increase based on size, he said, noting that the First Street Lofts would help fill the holes that currently exist in the downtown housing market.
"Our market rate is competitive with everybody else's," he said.
A plan to open a 6,000-square-foot market on the ground floor of the building also hit a snag when the original tenant backed out because of the credit crunch. But Sager said he plans to secure another tenant for the space after the rest of the building opens.
Sager acknowledged progress has been slow on the First Street Lofts, but he said he remains very positive about the project and believes the wait for its completion will be well worth it. In contrast to a number of other renovations of historic downtown properties that have been completed lately, he said, original features of his 1916 building have been left intact wherever possible.
"We believe our design has withstood the test of time," he said.
Citing the addition of a bicycle store, as well as a soon-to-open bowling alley and a planned upscale liquor store, Sager said he was pleased at the turn the surrounding neighborhood is taking, something he believes will make his lofts even more attractive to renters.
When finished, the First Street Lofts are likely to be a welcome addition to the fledgling downtown housing market. City officials believe the key to revitalizing the district is to dramatically increase the number of residents, an idea championed by urban planning and development adviser Jack Crowley, a University of Georgia faculty member, in the downtown master plan he presented to Tulsans during a forum last week.
Crowley said the significance of the First Street Lofts project is not to be underestimated, despite the fact it will add only 18 units to the local market.
"It's the key to continuity between all those districts," he said, explaining that the project will help link the Blue Dome District to the new ONEOK Field, which sits on the border between Greenwood and the Brady Arts District. "Michael's project is absolutely the key piece."
Crowley expects the First Street Lofts to have a great impact, particularly as the project represents the only residential living space in the Blue Dome, home to an increasing number of restaurants, nightclubs, retail shopping outlets and other attractions.
"If I came back to Tulsa, I'd live there," he said.
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