STERLING – Construction has started on the Lawrence Lofts project above the Whiteside County Courthouse, Rock Island Economic Growth Corp. announced Monday.
Crews started working Saturday on the estimated $5.6 million residential redevelopment project. The 10-month construction process is expected to support more than 62 jobs, and will put the property on the tax rolls again after a decades-long absence.
A groundbreaking ceremony will be held Oct. 13 at the site, which, because of where the main entrance will be, will have a 218 First Ave. address. The courthouse is at 101 E. Third St.
“We’re hoping the community comes out for the groundbreaking to show its support,” said Brian Hollenback, president and CEO of Economic Growth.
The ceremony will include a breakdown of the project’s economic impact.
“We’ll talk about jobs and neighborhood stabilization,” Hollenback said. “This is just one more strategy within a complicated approach to jump-start the Sterling economy.”
There are other Sterling redevelopment projects that his organization will take a closer look at now that the Lawrence Lofts deal has closed, he said.
He didn’t discuss details, but said there were a few things in the predevelopment stage.
A complex funding mix was put together by the federal nonprofit. Sources included Illinois Housing Development Authority, federal low-income housing tax credits, state affordable housing tax credits, Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago, the federal affordable housing program, Sterling Today, and Illinois Attorney General National Foreclosure Settlement funds.
Sterling Today helped with predevelopment expenses, provided a $100,000 facade grant, and contributed $50,000 for rent subsidies in two of the apartments set aside for lower-income residents.
Eighteen of the apartments are to be rent-restricted under the federal low-income housing tax credit program for tenants with an income of 60 percent or less of area median income. To satisfy certain tax credit requirements, two units also must be made available to tenants at 30 percent or less of area median income.
The city’s funding contribution was the establishment of the new East Central Business District TIF that will have a life span of 23 years. The West Central Business District TIF will expire in 2019.
The intricacy of the funding backed things up a bit from a previously estimated May groundbreaking.
“These are very complex transactions; they take the same amount of work regardless of how many units they have,” Hollenback said. “Persistence pays off, though, and strong partnerships will make a significant impact in the downtown.”
Lawrence Lofts will have 20 affordable housing units in the second through fifth floors of the Lawrence Building, which has been vacant since the 1960s. The apartments will range from 484 to 780 square feet, with some having one bedroom and one bathroom, while others feature two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Rent ranges from $215 to $740 a month.
The project is considered a milestone in the redevelopment of downtown Sterling and the riverfront, because it adds a nearly nonexistent residential element to the plans. The 20 apartments could bring 40 residents to the downtown by next summer.
“There are only a handful of buildings with people living in the downtown now,” said Janna Groharing, executive director of Sterling Main Street and Sterling Today. “Having them downtown buying coffee, eating, and going out in the evening could be a huge business catalyst.”
In addition to the direct economic impact of the project, it allows the county to maintain ownership of the first floor and keep the courthouse in the downtown, Hollenback said.
The Economic Growth Corp. first became involved in downtown housing revitalization efforts in 2001, and has leveraged more than $170 million in housing growth.
“Through these efforts, we have witnessed firsthand how these projects serve as catalysts for additional downtown revitalization,” Hollenback said.
Economic Growth also is working with the Veterans Administration Outpatient Clinic, 2 blocks from the Lawrence Building, to get veterans referrals for permanent housing arrangements.
A community groundbreaking ceremony is set for 4 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Lawrence Lofts site, 218 First Ave. in Sterling. The ceremony will include a breakdown of the project's economic impact, and a reception will follow at Smoked on 3rd, 14 E. Third St.