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26 Sep 2016

Neighbors receives funding for Empsall, other downtown buildings

By: Craig Fox | Published: Friday, September 23, 2016 at 12:30 AM | Updated: Friday, September 23, 2016 at 11:08 AM

WATERTOWN — After working on the complicated project for about three years, Neighbors of Watertown Inc. received formal state approval earlier this week to proceed with plans to renovate Brighton Apartments and four low-income senior citizen housing buildings in the city.

Neighbors plans to invest about $17 million to $19 million in major improvements on the housing complexes that serve low-income seniors and disabled individuals after finalizing a new financial structure through the state, Executive Director Gary C. Beasley said Thursday.

The Watertown Local Development Corp., also known as the Watertown trust, got an update about the plans on Thursday morning.

The project includes a major upgrade to the Brighton/Empsall Plaza buildings at 122 to 130 Court St. Renovations also will occur on 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. About 260 units would be spruced up.

Upgrades include new doors, windows, kitchens, bathrooms, energy-efficient heating and air conditioning equipment, and roof work.

Construction is expected to start in mid-November and be completed next construction season.

It’s taken nearly three years to secure funding for the project. The state Housing Financing Agency’s board gave final approval on Monday.

“It’s been a long haul, but I’m delighted to see it come to fruition,” Mr. Beasley said.

Board member Donald C. Alexander, who is also CEO of the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency, said Mr. Beasley doesn’t get enough credit for turning downtown around, stressing that the Neighbors official is responsible for as much as $100 million in investment in Watertown’s central business district.

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.

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.

On Thursday, the Watertown Trust board decided to extend its $250,000 commitment to make improvements to the rear facade on the Brighton/Empsall buildings.

Plans also call for 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.

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