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18 Nov 2016

Major upgrade to begin on five Watertown apartment buildings

By: Craig Fox | Published: Thursday, November 17, 2016 AT 12:30 AM

WATERTOWN — Neighbors of Watertown Inc. is about to embark on a $15 million construction project to renovate the Brighton Apartments and four low-income senior citizen housing buildings in the city.

Neighbors Executive Director Gary C. Beasley said the properties transferred last week after the housing agency invested about $13 million in taking over ownership of the buildings and paying off about $15 million on their debt through a new financial structure with the state.

The major upgrades could start as early as next week on the Brighton Apartments/Empsall Plaza commercial portion of the project on Court Street, followed by the Centennial Apartments, 1010 Washington St., in early December, he said. The old Frank A. Empsall Co. Department Store will be turned back into commercial space and a deteriorating elevator will be replaced.

“We’re ready to kick it off,” Mr. Beasley said.

It will be the first time in years that the apartment buildings will get a major upgrade.

Renovations also will occur on Henry Keep Apartments at 206 State St., Olympic Apartments on Franklin Street and Bugbee Apartments above the downtown Family Y facility. About 260 units will be spruced up.

Upgrades include new doors, windows, kitchens, bathrooms, energy-efficient heating and air conditioning equipment, and roof work. To keep disruption to tenants to a minimum, between six and 10 units will be finished at a time, Mr. Beasley said.

The $36.3 million project should take about 10 months to complete. The remainder of the costs for the project include engineering and design, legal and other expenses, Mr. Beasley said.

The renovations of the four apartment buildings will improve the lives of the tenants living there, said Michael A. Lumbis, the city’s planning and community development director. It also will help the city’s economy, he said.

“It’s going to impact downtown and the city,” he said.

Neighbors has been working on the complicated project for about three years, finally getting state approval for the financing package and securing funding in September. The state Housing Financing Agency’s board worked with Neighbors on the financing.

“Everyone is excited and positive about the upgrades,” Mr. Beasley said.

The Brighton/Empsall Plaza project also will include upgrading its 36 apartments, creating eight new ones and a new entrance at the back of the building on the same side as the J.B. Wise parking lot.

That work — which would create a parking lot and circular driveway at the back of the Brighton/Empsall — could begin in the next several weeks.

The Watertown Trust board also committed a $250,000 boost to make improvements to the rear facade on the Brighton/Empsall buildings.

The project also includes completing exterior improvements along a busy block of highly visible downtown commercial buildings that also have exteriors facing the J.B. Wise parking lot.

The mural — showing two soldiers near a river with an orange sun blazing in the background — on an adjacent building on the J.B. Wise parking lot side also will be covered over.

Purcell Construction, Watertown, is the general contractor. The Syracuse architectural firm of Crawford and Sterns designed the project.

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