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27 Sep 2016

Building the city up: Neighbors of Watertown to renovate apartment complexes

Editorial Praises Neighbors Successes | Published September 26, 2016 at 12:30 AM

Several years of hard work paid off for Neighbors of Watertown Inc. last week as it was authorized by the state to proceed with renovations to Brighton Apartments and four low-income senior citizen housing buildings in the city.

The Neighbors group intends to invest between $17 million and $19 million in major improvements on the housing complexes serving low-income seniors and disabled individuals after finalizing a new financial structure through the state. The project will encompass about 260 units. Major upgrades will be made to the Brighton/Empsall Plaza buildings at 122 to 130 Court St., Henry Keep Apartments at 206 State St., Olympic Apartments on Franklin Street, Centennial Apartments at 1010 Washington St. and Bugbee Apartments above the downtown Family Y facility. The state Housing Financing Agency’s board approved the project Sept. 19.

Upgrades will include new doors, windows, kitchens, bathrooms, energy-efficient heating and air conditioning equipment, and roof work. Construction is expected to start in mid-November.

“Under new financial structuring, Neighbors will acquire the Centennial, Henry Keep, Olympic and Bugbee properties from current owners. Neighbors hopes to raise $35 million to pay debt on the properties to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and for the cost of the upgrades of the buildings,” according to a story published Friday in the Watertown Daily Times. “The Brighton/Empsall Plaza project will include upgrading its 36 apartments, creating eight new ones, replacing the building’s elevator and creating a new entrance at the back of the building on the same side as the J.B. Wise parking lot. The old Frank A. Empsall Co. Department Store will be turned back into commercial space. Work will include creating a parking lot and circular driveway at the back of the Brighton/Empsall.”

This project began with Peter W. Schmitt, executive director of the YMCA and a member of the Bugbee and Centennial boards of directors. With his prodding, the two boards recognized they were financially challenged to sustain the investments by the Y and community in Bugbee and Henry Keep’s investments at Centennial and its Public Square developments.

He reached out to Neighbors of Watertown and its executive director, Gary C. Beasley, who organized the project and dealt with the multiple approvals from various levels of government. Now these aging projects will be enhanced, upgrading their residential units and strengthening the city’s housing stock.

Neighbors of Watertown, Henry Keep and the YMCA have persisted for more than 30 years in enhancing downtown. These projects will continue their investments of substantial amounts of money in Watertown’s central business district. Watertown continues to benefit from such efforts to renovate buildings and create better housing options for many city residents.