Every weekday for the past eight months, laborers have been plying their trades inside the resurrected Rieger Building, the colossal brick beast that had been dormant for years.
If interested passersby stop to peek through the open doors and windows of the seven-story structure, they’ll catch glimpses of workers ducking and lunging to avoid low-hanging pipes or other sharp objects. And those who dare enter would be wise to bring a flashlight — maybe even a lantern or spotlight — to navigate through the dark and hidden passageways in this antiquated building.
Since February, construction crews have worked tirelessly to refurbish the Rieger. It’s a massive undertaking, entailing a complete modernization of the 65,000-square-foot facility.
The transformation began only after Columbus-based Buckeye Community Hope Foundation secured $8 million in tax credits to fund a complete overhaul of the property. Local tax dollars are not funding the project.
Early last year, Columbus-based Buckeye Community Hope Foundation acquired $8 million in tax credits to transform the former Rieger Hotel into apartments for senior citizens. Here’s a breakdown of the nonprofit’s plans:
• $5.5 million: Improvements to existing building at Jackson and West Market streets.
• $2 million: Various administrative costs.
• $500,000: Building acquisition, as well as cost of furniture, fixtures and such.
Source: Buckeye Community Hope Foundation
The plan calls for creating 37 individual apartments for senior citizens. The project will also establish some commercial activity on the first floor, such as an eatery or office space.
Planners rolled out two ideas to secure housing credits for the Rieger upgrade:
• Reshape and preserve a historic city structure.
• Address a need for independent senior housing.
“The redevelopment of the Rieger is going to be great in terms of serving the unmet needs of seniors who want to live downtown,” said Roy Lowenstein, vice president of Buckeye Community Hope Foundation.
Many of the apartments for seniors in this area are already filled to capacity, with several names on waiting lists. The senior apartments are completely different than nursing home environments.
Local studies concluded the area’s elder population will balloon from 18,000 today to roughly 26,000 in seven years, displaying an obvious need for more senior housing.
Today’s 18,000 seniors represent 23 percent of Erie County’s 77,000 people.
“Older adults who are not working need a place to live,” said Sue Daugherty, Serving Our Seniors executive director. “We need rental housing targeted toward the price range of retirees.”
Restore and preserve
Buckeye Foundation officials originally said the Rieger project would wrap up next month. But seniors seeking to move into the property will have to wait a bit longer.
“Within a year it should be completed,” said Dan Spenthoff, project coordinator for Holland-based The Douglas Co.
Spenthoff, who’s overseeing construction, couldn’t provide a ballpark end date for the project.
One reason for the delay revolves around ensuring the building is being accurately restored.
“In order to get the historic tax credits for this building, this building has to be restored to what it was historically in the past,” Spenthoff said. “They take pictures in the past of what this building looked like, and we have to restore it back to meet those conditions.”
For instance: The new windows being installed must somewhat resemble what they looked like decades ago, when lodgers checked into the Rieger Hotel.
“We have to keep the same profile,” Spenthoff said. “That includes the lobby, the hallways, doors and just the overall appearance of this building.”
Another factor in the lag: unexpected construction challenges.
“The biggest challenge is trying to deal with the unknown conditions that are here in the building that were not foreseen going in,” Spenthoff said.
Case in point: severe deterioration on the roof.
“That took some time to get right,” Spenthoff said. “When finished, this will be a good thing for the community.”
The tentative available space and rent for each apartment:
• $499 per month for one-bedroom apartments — 16 units, from 650 square feet up to 751 square feet.
• $599 per month for two-bedroom apartments — 17 units, from 850 square feet up to 1,000 square feet.