The revitalization project, which will turn the abandoned factory into residential housing, is set to be in front of the Wisconsin State Historical Preservation Review Board in February. But the project has already received partial approval because it is now on the National Register of Historic Places, a prerequisite for the project to receive the tax credits.
The Ajax plant was where the Walker Manufacturing Company, founded in 1908, had its first headquarters. It is also the site where the Walker Silencer, an innovative muffler, was created in the early 1900s.
Sarah Beck, development analyst for Indianapolis-based Herman & Kittle Properties Inc., told members of the Landmark Preservation Committee Monday night that it hopes to complete the sale of the former Walker Manufacturing Ajax plant this spring.
“For the city, this site is an important historical site where a lot of invention took place,” Beck said. “And the city itself was home to many inventions. Walker was one of the leaders in that. So it stands to reason to save some of the character of this community.”
The project will offer 74 loft-style apartments at market rate and affordable housing rates since the project is being funded by a combination of historic tax credits, home loans, and grants. Once built, Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan will operate the facility, which will give preference to veterans. The project includes restoring several buildings, but knocking some sections of the building down and adding a parking structure. The development also includes a courtyard with gardens, office space for services for veterans, classrooms, and a fitness center.
“Our big idea is that we’re going to re-introduce Blake St. straight through… most of the buildings that we are moving are in-fill, they aren’t actual buildings they are exterior areas that they roofed over,” said Matthew Edwards, of Quorum Architects Inc. “By doing that we let some of the original buildings re-emerge.”
Within some of the larger buildings, the plan includes building smaller buildings, having exterior green space, and a parking garage.
“The integrity of the buildings will be maintained from the exterior,” Edwards said.
The project is being partially funded with a low-income housing tax credit through the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, but instead of tenants being subsidized the project is being subsidized on the font end. The tax credit is for $830,000, which can sold to a bank or an insurance company over a 10-year period. This accounts for 50 percent of the developers equity in the project.
Tenants still have to qualify to receive a lower rent, which is based on their income. Veterans receive preferential treatment because if they qualify to live there and there is an opening, they also qualify to receive wrap around services through Lutheran Social Services. But the housing is also open to non-veterans as well.
“The rent isn’t subsidized… but they do have to income qualify for it,” Beck said.
The project is expected to be completed by Dec. 31, 2017.