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13 Feb 2017

Work progresses on Brighton, four other city apartment buildings

By: Craig Fox | Published: Friday, February 10, 2017 at 12:30 AM

WATERTOWN — Gary C. Beasley acknowledged it can be a logistical nightmare to move tenants from 262 apartments during a major upgrade at Brighton Apartments and four low-income senior citizen housing buildings in the city.

In November, Neighbors of Watertown Inc. launched an approximately $14 million construction project at the Brighton/Empsall building, Centennial Apartments, the Bugbee building above the downtown Family Y facility and Henry Keep and Olympic apartments.

To keep disruption to a minimum, small groups of tenants are being moved to other apartments while work on their units is completed.

“It’s a blend of shuffling around and a logistical nightmare,” Mr. Beasley said, adding tenants seem to be happy with what they’ve seen so far.

He gave an update about the improvements at Thursday’s meeting of the Citizens Advisory Board, a group of community and business leaders that meet monthly to discuss city issues.

Considered an important project for the community, it’s the first time in years that the apartment buildings are getting a major upgrade.

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

So far, 21 apartments already were completed in the Centennial Apartments, 1010 Washington St., and work on six others are underway at both the Brighton/Empsall and Bugbee buildings.

Work on the Brighton/Empsall Plaza building on Court Street also will include redoing 36 upper-floor apartments and adding eight new units. An elevator also is getting replaced.

Renovations at the Henry Keep and Olympic buildings will start later this year.

All the upgrades are expected to be completed in August, but the entire project must be finished by the end of the year, so that investors can take advantage of tax credits in 2017, Mr. Beasley said.

Board member Stephen M. Hunt II said he was impressed that so much work was getting done in such a short amount of time.

“That’s awesome,” he said.

The old Frank A. Empsall Co. Department Store will be turned back into commercial space. The housing agency is still looking for a tenant for that space, which most recently housed Velocity, a fun center that abruptly closed in 2013, Mr. Beasley said.

A horseshoe-shaped driveway and tenant parking lot will be created on the building’s J.B. Wise parking lot side.

Using $250,000 from the Watertown Local Development Corp., the project also includes completing exterior improvements along a block of highly visible downtown commercial buildings that also have exteriors facing the J.B. Wise parking lot.

“I think it’ll revitalize that area in the back,” he said.

At the Bugbee building, Neighbors also will help with sprucing up some space in the downtown Y where some senior citizen programs are held.

Right now, 60 construction workers and nine subcontractors are involved in the project. At its peak, 100 laborers will be working at the construction sites.

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

Under new structuring, Neighbors held the Brighton/Empsall building before acquiring the Centennial, Henry Keep, Olympic and Bugbee properties from previous owners, allowing them to become under control of a single ownership.

A new management structure resulted in Neighbors increasing staff from 31 to 39 employees, Mr. Beasley said.

Despite the major undertaking, Mr. Beasley said, “It’s going well. It’s very exciting.”

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

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