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Historic renovation garners state support

Plans to rehabilitate a historic downtown building got a boost Monday from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce. Commerce Undersecretary Aaron Olver presented MetroPlains LLC with a check for $385,059 to help pay for the $4.5 million renovation p...

Plans to rehabilitate a historic downtown building got a boost Monday from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce.

Commerce Undersecretary Aaron Olver presented MetroPlains LLC with a check for $385,059 to help pay for the $4.5 million renovation project.

The grant, through the rental housing development program, will help keep rent affordable when the rehabilitation project is complete.

"It helps developers create, reinvest, overhaul or construct housing that will be made available to low- and moderate-income folks ... like senior citizens who may be living on a fixed income," Olver said.

The grant is in addition to more than $3 million in tax credits that have been approved for the project, and a $200,000 grant from the city to help MetroPlains LLC acquire the former Social Security building in the 1500 block of Tower Avenue, said Port and Planning Director Jason Serck.

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MetroPlains LLC is the Twin Cities-based firm responsible for the renovation of the New York Building, 1402-1412 Tower Ave.

Plans for the former Social Security building, historically known as the Washington Block, include creating 23 apartments and a common area on the first floor that features a fitness center, barbershop, community kitchen and other amenities, said Rob McCready, project manager for MetroPlains. He said the company is working with the Superior-Douglas County Senior Center to provide direct access to the organization's adjacent building. Rent will vary from low- to moderate-income to market rate, he said.

Architects are currently developing plans that will create the desired space and retain some of the building's features such as moldings and fireplaces, McCready said.

"We try to keep those things that sort of make it special," McCready said.

Just like the New York Building, there will be green space behind the building, but the way the Washington Block was constructed will allow for the creation of a courtyard above the first floor, he said.

The upper floors form a U-shape around the exterior of the building, leaving the roof of the first floor open.

McCready said he envisions a courtyard with seating where residents can barbecue and enjoy the outdoors.

"Unlike the New York Building, we're not going to have any commercial space in it," McCready said. "It's all going to be housing."

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The uncertainty in the project currently is the fa?ade on the front of the building. Originally constructed with six large arches across the front, it is not known how many, if any, remain.

In the 1960s, it appears some were removed to create a glass storefront for a furniture store that was housed on the north end of the building. It's unknown if the remaining arches were removed when the current fa?ade was added, McCready said.

The Washington Block is one of 18 commercial giants constructed in the city during the city's second boom era between 1888 and 1892. While a few of those major commercial buildings were built on Hammond Avenue and in Superior's East End business district, 12 were constructed along Tower Avenue, shaping the central business district. Today, seven of those boom-era buildings remain on Tower, including AMSOIL Building (Berkshire), Superior Stove Works (Empire), Badger Building (Maryland), Globe News (New Jersey), Board of Trade (Minnesota), the New York and Washington blocks. Fire or demolition destroyed the Wisconsin, Wemyss (Kresge Building), Watkins and Massachusetts blocks and the West Superior Hotel.

McCready said he expects construction, which is likely to take a year to complete, to begin in December.

Contact Shelley Nelson at (715) 395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com .

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