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SUFFOLK REDEVELOPMENT
Elizabeth McCoury, director of downtown development In Suffolk, and developer Mickey Garcia look over the warehouse on Commerce Street that Garcia wants to convert into apartments. This is the rear of the warehouse and it will serve for parking.
A developer seeks to turn an old warehouse into trendy apartments

BY PHYLLIS SPEIDELL
THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT


SUFFOLK - The weathered brick warehouse has been a fixture in the city's faded East Washington Street business district for about a century. Faded paint on one wall still advertises fertilizer, cement and lime - a reminder of the site's days as the Holland Beamon Co. farm-supply store. In the 1950s, the Electricooker division of General Foods manufactured commercial popcorn poppers there.
But Mickey Garcia, who first saw the building just off East Washington 18 months ago, envisions a much different future for this neglected slice of the city's history.
He wants to turn the warehouse into a trendy apartment complex."
DETAILS
-Plans call for 13 two-bedroom apartments. The building is within walking distance of downtown. Plans are to make them about 1,000 square feet and rent for less than $1,000 a month.
-To make the project work, the developer needs state and federal tax credits. To qualify, the project must meet federal standards for rehabilitating historic structures.
-The warehouse lies within the 2002 expansion of the Suffolk National Register Historic District and borders the city's Fairgrounds project.
I've always looked for a place, an old sock mill, warehouse or school, to do this," said Garcia, who specializes in rehabilitating historic buildings.
He struck a deal with the warehouse's owner, Thomas L. Woodward Jr., to buy the building and two adjacent structures for about one-third of a million dollars. He met with city planning officials. He hired an architect to draw a preliminary plan to take to the state Department of Historic Resources and Suffolk's Historic Landmarks Commission.
The transformation planned by Garcia would be the first of its kind in Suffolk's historic district, said Elizabeth McCoury, Suffolk director of downtown development.
The proposal comes as the city considers plans for several new restaurants that could attract the young professionals whom Garcia envisions as tenants. His 13 two-bedroom apartments would be within walking distance of downtown. Plans are to make them about 1,000 square feet and rent for less than $1,000 a month, he said.


To make the project work, Garcia needs state and federal tax credits. And to qualify for those, he must meet stringent standards set by the U.S. Department of the Interior for rehabilitating historic structures.
The warehouse lies within the 2002 expansion of the Suffolk National Register Historic District and borders The Fairgrounds, Suffolk's ambitious urban renewal program to develop new residential housing near the downtown business area.
Basically, the challenge is to create modern, practical apartments inside while maintaining the circa-1900 building's industrial look outside.
"People need to read the warehouse as a warehouse, not an apartment building," said Paige Weiss, architectural historian for the Ports-mouth region of the Department of Historic Resources.
For Garcia, that meant eliminating from his plan the Williamsburg ambiance of multiple rows of windows and a columned entrance in favor of fewer, commercial-type windows placed at the site of the original windows and a curved metal canopy over the entrance.
"You put $10,000 out on the street on a maybe - a plan of what you think will fly and then they eat it up," Garcia said. "They don't kill the deal, they just tell you this is what we are looking for and then you have to adjust."
Garcia is striving to marry history and progress.
"They want the building to look industrial, so I have got to go trendy," he said. "I just don't want residents to feel like they are going home to a feed and seed."
Weiss believes that Garcia's plans can satisfy the historic requirements for the tax-credit program.
Bolstered by her encouragement and the city's co-operation, Garcia expects to put, $1 million into the project, including parking lots, a circular driveway and a decorative brick wall along the property.
Garcia, who is completing several other rehabilitation projects in Suffolk - including a partnership in College Court, an early 1900s bungalow colony on Main Street - expects to clear all the historic and code hurdles to finish the project by May.
Weiss welcomes efforts to give historic commercial buildings new life as residences.
"The trend toward of going back to the urban centers of Hampton Roads has developers looking at those options now," she said. "Warehouses are a little tougher to convert, but some Norfolk developers have been pushing the envelope.
"There is a lot more flexibility because you are starting with less in the interior, but it takes a lot more vision on the part of the developer and potential residents."