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Developer proposes school retrofit

Rexford-Longfellow Elementary School in Clintonville. File Photo

Tentative plan to turn Rexford Longfellow into apartments

By Bert Lehman

Impact Seven, a developer in Rice Lake, has been in contact with the city of Clintonville regarding the possibility of retrofitting the old Rexford Longfellow Elementary School into apartments.

Carol Keen, director of asset development for Impact Seven, presented a tentative retrofitting concept to the Clintonville Redevelopment Authority Committee when it met Sept. 19.

It should be noted that what was presented was only a tentative concept, and nothing has been approved yet regarding retrofitting the old elementary school buildings.

“Knowing that this is in the school board’s realm, this is a decision the school board will have to make,” City Administrator Caz Muske told the RDA committee. “Based on our experience in economic development we feel very strongly that the developer is a really good candidate for this project.”

She added that if there is a recommendation from the Clintonville Redevelopment Authority or the Clintonville City Council, potentially the school board might be more inclined to work with Impact Seven before moving forward with accepting any bids for the property. The hope would be to allow time to work with Impact Seven.

“Rexford Longfellow, the reason why it is a very attractive project is because there is a lot of funding mechanisms that are available,” Muske said.

Some of the funding mechanisms include WHEDA loans, housing tax credits and historical tax credits, Muske said.
“That creates equity going into the project, which makes it a more affordable project development to occur,” Muske said.

Impact Seven

Keen told the RDA committee that Impact Seven has been in business for 53 years. Even though the business in located in Rice Like, employees for the company are located throughout Wisconsin.

“We’re a non-profit,” Keen said. “We’re a housing developer, owner and managers. We have just under 2,000 units under ownership, and we also have a small team of management portfolio for select partners. We will handle just the rental of an apartment community for a fee. (This includes) leasing, rent collections, and financial statements.”

Most constructions projects Impact Seven takes on are usually 12-month projects, Keen said.

She said Impact Seven has retrofitted historical buildings into apartments in the past. One example she cited was an old factory building in Manitowoc that was used to manufacture frying pans. Impact Seven retrofitted that factory building into 40-units of one, two, and three-bedroom apartments.

“All of our apartment communities come with a full amenities package, including in-unit washers and dryers, heat and cooling,” Keen said.

She added that there is usually a community room that includes a kitchen and an on-site fitness area. Internet, where it is available, is sometimes included in the rent. Their apartments are also pet friendly, and sometimes include a pet wash.

Tenants wneed an income of 2 1/2 times the rent amount in order to qualify for an apartment, Keen said.

Typically, there is an on-site manager at all Impact Seven properties. The size of the property would determine whether the on-site manager is full-time or part-time.

Keen said Impact Seven is involved in the communities that they have properties in.

“We’re not developers, and then put it for sale and walk away to the next one,” Keen said.

Keen said she has met with Clintonville Superintendent Troy Kuhn regarding the Rexford Longfellow property, as well as with Muske and Emily Grosskreutz, executive director for the Clintonville Area Chamber of Commerce. Both Muske and Grosskreutz have also toured the retrofitted apartments in Manitowoc.

“We talked a lot about the work we do and the work we could envision happening in Clintonville,” Keen said.

She added that Impact Seven is interested in the Rexford Longfellow buildings because it feels it can turn them into a “cool opportunity for the community.”

Impact Seven has the ability to obtain financing to complete a project, Keen said.

The process

Muske told the RDA committee that the school board is currently soliciting bids from those interested in purchasing the old Rexford Longfellow Elementary School buildings.

“I think this is a really good fit for the project,” Muske said.

She added there is a “fear” that the school district will receive a bid on the property before Impact Seven can present a formal proposal. Muske said financing must first be determined, which involves applying for housing credits and historical credits.

“The hope is, if there is a strong recommendation from the city’s redevelopment authority and the city council, that potentially the school board might give a little bit more time to have more in-depth conversations with Impact Seven and highly consider them as a good candidate.”

Site plan

Keen presented a tentative site plan for how each building of the old elementary school complex would be retrofitted into apartments.

Between the 1918 building, the Rexford building, and the Longfellow building that comprise the old elementary school complex, the tentative site plan would include a total of 57 apartment units.

The property could also include 10 additional townhouses. The tentative plan does not use any of the gym or cafeteria space in the former elementary school complex. These areas could be used as community space or space for a fitness center.

Parking would stay where its currently located behind the buildings.

The tentative plan would call for the 1918 building retrofitted into a total of 20 units, with the Rexford building being retrofitted into eight units, and the Longfellow building being retrofitted into 29 units.

“In order to know for sure what the demand is and the number of units, we would engage a market study, which we have not engaged a market study at this point,” Keen said.

She added a market study would help determine how many one, two and three-bedroom apartments are needed. It would also help determine what the monthly rent amount would be for each type of apartment.

“At this point, we just spent time with the architect looking at the building and the opportunity to maximize the number of units,” Keen said.

Keen said if this development would eventually move forward, it would probably be around a $15 million development.

RDA reaction

Muske told the RDA committee that another developer, who owns two facilities in the city of Clintonville, had also expressed interest developing the old elementary school buildings.

“Knowing the style that they currently have, I’m not sure it would be a good matched developer for this specific (project),” Muske said. “They were one of the developers that were offered to come tonight and give information, however, they didn’t take the opportunity.”

Muske added that the city has met with 10 developers.

RDA Committee member Jack DeWolf said the retrofit idea presented by Impact Seven looked good, but he said he wouldn’t be comfortable making a recommendation to the school board without knowing all the available options.

RDA committee member Kody Zempel asked if residents of Clintonville would be able to afford the monthly rents that the apartments would require.

Muske said what was presented was just a preliminary concept and a market study still needed to be completed to determine the viability of the retrofit option for the old elementary school complex.

“After a market study is accomplished, that’s when they can zero in. They’re not going to build something that doesn’t lease,” Muske said. “They want to make sure it’s appropriate for the community.”

Zempel said his main concern is that this project would be completed but not enough people would be able to afford the rent of the units, but the rent for other housing in the city would increase because of the project.

“Affordability is my main concern,” Zempel said.

Muske said affordability is one of the requirements for some tax credits.

The RDA committee directed Muske to contact the Clintonville School District to see if it wants to have a joint workshop regarding the old school.

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