ALEDO, Ill. — Plans for 30 “fabulous” and “unique” workforce apartments at the old junior high school in the heart of Aledo’s historic downtown district took another key step forward on Tuesday, Feb. 8.
About 25 people, including city leaders, former students and teachers, who were gathered at the Aledo VFW, applauded the latest plans for the proposed $11.8 million Northside Lofts at 205 N. College Ave., Aledo. This was the second community meeting held by project manager Economic Growth Corp. (GROWTH) to talk about the effort to reclaim a historic building and provide housing for people who work in and near Aledo.
The Feb. 8 session was led by Char Flickinger, GROWTH’s new vice president for development, who is focused these days on captaining the Aledo project.
Aledo Mayor Chris Hagloch and the Aledo City Council targeted the former school building for redevelopment as early as 2018. But the project only gained momentum – as so many new Aledo initiatives have – when W.J. Albertson, the former Aledo resident who owns a number of historic downtown buildings, purchased it from the prior owner. Mr. Albertson reached out to GROWTH about creating housing at the former junior high for people who live and work near Aledo and the development organization quickly signed on.
The crowd at the VFW was enthusiastic. That may have been due in part to the amount of public input in the project, Ms. Flickinger said. It’s important to the community-based organization she serves to pay attention to what a community is looking for in a redevelopment, she said. In fact, the plans shared Tuesday had incorporated a number of the elements local residents recommended.
Thirty units are planned in the historic junior high school. Twenty-four units will be created in the existing structure and six others will be located in a new addition to be built on the west side of the old school. There will be 19 one-bedroom, nine two-bedroom, and two studio apartments at Northside Lofts, said Andrew Fisher, construction director for GROWTH.
The goal is not only to provide housing units, but to create a catalyst for economic growth in downtown Aledo and the city, Ms. Flickinger said.
Before any of that can happen, however, the next step in the process is critical. The application is due on Monday, Feb. 14, for key tax credits needed to redevelop the historic old school and build the six-apartment addition at the Illinois Housing Development Association on Monday.
GROWTH is applying for state and federal historic tax credits for the project. But a major component of the funding is expected to come from low-income tax credits from The Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA).
Ms. Flickinger stressed, however, that the workforce housing on the site is not government- subsidized low-income housing. To receive the IHDA income credits, however, at least 60% of the units will need to be occupied by residents whose income is 60% of the median income for the area. That’s roughly $36,600 for two people or $32,100 for a single person.
The rest of the units are available for anyone who wants to live there. GROWTH also has worked to ensure that all units will remain affordable.
Competition for the IHDA tax credits is stiff. “Not everybody gets it,” Ms. Flickinger said. To qualify the project must first meet a long checklist of criteria. GROWTH should know about the success of this funding request in 90 days.
If this year’s application is denied, however, Mr. Fisher stressed, “we won’t stop. We’ve never walked away from a project.” The process is expected to take about 90 days.
Meanwhile, interest in Northside Lofts among area employers is high because they have workers who want to live closer to work. The city also has provided GROWTH with data that showed there is a need for this type of housing, Ms. Flickinger said.
She also applauded the City of Aledo and residents for their support and input in the development. “We have a great team,” she said, adding that it’s “so rare to have such great local support.” For example, the Aledo City Council dedicated TIF (tax increment financing) funds to the project. That shows that Aledo’s commitment “is heartfelt,” Ms. Flickinger said. Many times local leaders “will give you lip service,” she said, “but that was putting your money where your mouth is.”
As with all its projects, GROWTH Vice President Beth Payne stressed, GROWTH is committed to the Aledo project’s success. The goal, she said, “is to meet and exceed 100% occupancy so we never have empty apartments.”
The smoke-free, pet-friendly high-end apartments will boast refinished wood floors, where available, as well as carpeting, high-end fixtures and cabinets, individual electric heaters, and energy-efficient appliances including in-unit washers and dryers and LED lighting fixtures.
Architects also are planning to include such things as the old lockers. Ms. Flickinger found out that the lockers would be incorporated in the design after GROWTH received inquiries from former students who wanted to obtain their old lockers. Care also is being taken to retain its huge windows and wide corridors, and to accentuate historical and structural features. Despite the challenges that presents, GROWTH is committed to creating a certified green project, both to combat climate change and make utilities cheaper for tenants.
“The building is going to be just fabulous,” Ms. Flickinger said.
With the amenities Northside Lofts will be offering, renting them shouldn’t be a problem, Ms. Flickinger said. They include ample parking, a playground and outdoor basketball court, community center, community garden, gymnasium with fitness center, outdoor basketball court, a game room, and importantly, an internet cafe that will feature broadband and individual workstations. The latter was a directive from Mr. Albertson, Ms. Flickinger said, to ensure that residents who choose to live in Aledo and work from home have access to the tools they need to to do so.
From the beginning, the idea for the Northside project was to “think outside the box to make this a unique flagship development in Aledo,” Ms. Flickinger told the QCBJ before Tuesday’s session.
“They will be unique,” Ms. Flickinger promised about the apartments.