APPLETON – Since 1932, the Art Deco building at 306 W. Washington St. had been the home of Appleton’s The Post-Crescent, where generations of reporters, photographers and editors worked to tell the stories of the Fox Cities.
But now, it’ll be an affordable home for individuals and families in the heart of downtown Appleton. The former newsroom is a kitchen where a family will sit down to dinner. Old conference rooms have been turned into bedrooms and bathrooms. The press room, where a mammoth printing press once cranked out thousands of newspapers a day, is now an underground parking garage.
Crescent Lofts‘ first tenants will begin moving into their new homes this week. The development has 69 units, 58 of which will be income-restricted one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, with rent starting at $725 a month for a one-bedroom apartment.
Crescent Lofts is helping to fill a gap in much-needed low-to-moderate-income housing in Appleton. But, the project will only put a small dent number of affordable units needed in the city.
In 2018 in Outagamie County, nearly one-third of all households were living in poverty or considered to be ALICE households, which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained and Employed, according to a United Way study of income and poverty in northeastern Wisconsin. These are employed households that still struggle to afford the basic survival costs of housing, food, transportation, technology, health care and child care.
Many of these household are considered “cost burdened,” defined by the federal government as spending more than 30% of their income on housing, leaving inadequate money for other basic expenses.
Nearly 20% of Appleton households pay more than 30% of their income for housing, while 8% spend half or more of their income on housing, according to the Joint Center For Housing Studies at Harvard University.
Tax credits, passion key to new affordable housing
Building affordable housing, especially while preserving a historic building, “is a lot more expensive” than new development, said Andy Dumke, principal and cofounder of Northpointe Development, the developer of Crescent Lofts.
It wouldn’t be possible without two things: developers’ passion for taking old buildings and giving them new uses, and state and federal tax credits that help them renovate at a cost that allows rents to be affordable.
Rent for a one-bedroom apartment at Crescent Lofts will be between $725 and $825, depending on a tenant’s income. A two-bedroom unit will be between $850 and $950, while a three-bedroom apartment will rent between $925 and $1,025, according to Dumke.
Transforming a historic building into affordable apartments takes a lot of extra work, Dumke said, and about two years of planning before construction can even begin.
The Post-Crescent building is on the National Register of Historic Places, so all of the developer’s plans had to be approved by the National Parks Service, Dumke said. They also had to follow specific guidelines to make sure the building is handicapped accessible.
But, there’s a feeling of pride that goes along with the work that makes all the extra steps worth it, Dumke said.
“It is a lot more work than your typical market-rate apartments,” he said. “But, it’s a field that pays a little bit of feel good to go along with it as well. There’s a significant shortage of affordable housing in the country, and it’s going to become a greater need as construction prices, lumber and everything continues to go up in cost.”
Northpointe Development received several tax credits and awards to help offset the cost of the $12 million project — $923,905 in tax credits from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, a $492,000 Home Fund award through the state Department of Administration, and $1.5 million and $1.2 million in federal and state historic preservation tax credits, respectively.
As building costs continue to increase, it’s become more important for developers of affordable housing to have a variety of funding sources to make the projects possible and keep rent affordable for tenants.
“I think, in the future, you’re going to see even more local participation in getting these projects done,” Dumke said. “It’s not just something that’s coming from the state level or federal level. There’s going to have to be a lot of local municipality support as well.”
Modern amenities in a historic building
Crescent Lofts is not Northpointe Development’s first affordable housing project in Appleton. The developers also worked on the Woolen Mills Lofts, an old riverfront factory turned into a four-story, 60-unit apartment building at 218 E South Island St.
Dumke said he and his team had a positive experience working with the city of Appleton on that development and knew they wanted to do another project in the city. They were drawn to The Post-Crescent building because of its location and the character of the building.
“There’s a lot going on in downtown Appleton and we felt like the location is pretty good,” Dumke said. “(It’s) close to College Avenue and all the amenities down there.”
Crescent Lofts will have two parts — a new addition with 36 units attached to the old Post-Crescent building and 33 units inside the renovated former newspaper headquarters. Tenants will begin moving into units in the new addition this month. Units in the newspaper building won’t be ready until September.
The walls of the almost 90-year-old building hold a lot of history, and Dumke and his business partner, Callan Schultz, wanted to preserve as much of that history as possible.
Many of the building’s historic windows will remain, as well as some original masonry, stairs and flooring. In the newspaper’s lobby, which will now be a community room for residents, developers are leaving in the old safe door and restoring the decorative molding on the ceilings. Whoever gets the unit that contains the old publisher’s office will enjoy wood trim and built-in shelves and cabinets.
While historic touches will be sprinkled throughout, the building also will have plenty of modern amenities. Each unit comes with new, stainless steel kitchen appliances, quartz countertops in the kitchen and a washer and dryer. Living areas feature vinyl plank flooring, while the bedrooms have new carpeting, walk-in closets and ceiling fans. The electric outlets even have USB plugs.
The building has a fitness room, 72 underground parking spaces, storage lockers and an elevator. Heat and Wi-Fi are included in the rent and every unit has air conditioning.
No two units will have the same floor plan. Some span two or three stories and others have their own private entrances.
“Every unit is unique,” Dumke said. “It’s not like new construction, where typically all the units are pretty much just stacked on top of each other. When you deal with a historic building, every floor plan is typically different. And then there’s a lot of character that goes along with the brick and sometimes the beams and the flooring and different things like that.”