STERLING – The second floor of the Lawrence Building, silent for decades, was roaring with exuberance Thursday afternoon.
City leaders and dignitaries cut a ribbon to signify the completion of the $5.6 million Lawrence Lofts affordable housing project. The second-floor apartments were unveiled to the public for tours. Similar units continue to the fifth floor.
City leaders see the project, developed by Rock Island-based nonprofit Economic Growth Corp., as a catalyst for growth in the downtown and along the riverfront.
“The project has been in the works for a long time,” Sterling Today President Dan Hawkins said. “This is a milestone for the city – the first major downtown residential development.”
Sterling Today and the city partnered with Economic Growth Corp. on the project, and the national nonprofit was able to put together several intricate layers of financing to make it happen. The key to the mix was $4.5 million in tax credits.
“These types of activity can’t happen without the work of government, economic development groups, and the support of residents,” said Brian Hollenback, Economic Growth’s president. “I’m humbled to work with strong partners like the city of Sterling and Sterling Today, and I’m proud that we had a part in starting Sterling’s downtown neighborhood.”
Partnerships are the only way towns the size of Sterling can make projects of this scale happen, Mayor Skip Lee said. It isn’t the first time the city has worked with Economic Growth Corp.
“Since 2009, our partnerships with them have brought $18.2 million in investments,” Lee said. “The great thing about their organization is that they come to us with all of their experience and say, ‘Hey, have you ever thought about this?’”
The mayor and council members at the event said most city leaders had bought into the mixed-use downtown redevelopment model long ago.
“We’ve been trying to get downtown living here for at least 10 years,” Alderwoman Retha Elston said. “Seeing the vision come to life in a building that had been empty for so long is incredibly exciting.”
State Sen. Neil Anderson, R-Andalusia, and state Rep. Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, were on hand for the festivities. Both lauded the importance of public-private partnerships in bringing investment dollars to small towns.
“When it comes to these partnerships, nobody in the nation does it better than Brian Hollenback,” Anderson said. “This building has been vacant since the 1960s, and now it’s back on the tax rolls, helping to create jobs.”
Whiteside County Board Chairman Jim Duffy said staff at the courthouse had to put up with a lot during construction, but now it’s all worth it. They even had to leave for a week while fire escapes were put in.
“Having a courthouse on the main floor made it a unique development situation, but the county is happy to have a reliable partner to make this entire building useful,” Duffy said.
The courthouse has been there for nearly 23 years, and 3 years ago, the county took control of the entire building. During the county’s time in the Lawrence Building, only a carpenter’s union and photography studio had brief stays there, Duffy said.
Construction of the 20 units, which vary in size from 398 to 725 square feet, began last fall. Some have two bedrooms and two bathrooms, while others have one bedroom and one bath. Rent ranges from $215 to $740 a month.
Each apartment has a mix of brown carpet and dark vinyl plank flooring. Large windows bring in ample light and allow residents to check out the action downtown. Walls are a simple bright white, but the decorative ductwork gives the units an edgy urban feel.
The kitchens are well-equipped with double sinks, ovens, refrigerators, microwaves, and cupboards that match the floors.
Bedrooms are carpeted, with ceiling fans and a fair amount of closet space, while the bathrooms have a shower and tub combo with vanities.
In the basement, there are storage units, a laundry area, and exercise room.
Preliminary applications could be submitted Thursday, but officials are working through an existing waiting list before looking at the new submissions.
The Lawrence Lofts rental office is at 218 First Ave. in Sterling. For more information about the apartments, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 815-782-0707.