Looking over some renovations

CALUMET – Many property owners in Calumet take advantage of the loan and grant program offered by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. Wednesday, MSHDA representatives along with Calumet government officials and interested residents took a tour of three of those properties.

The tour began with the former Morrison Elementary School building on Seventh Street, which developer Mike Lahti is converting to office space on the first floor, and 14 apartments on the second and third floors.

Lahti said he considered making the apartments one to four bedrooms, but research showed the three- and four- bedrooms wouldn’t be particularly desirable.

“The market for one and two bedrooms would be better than three or four bedrooms,” he said.

Eight of the apartments will be rent-controlled to conform to MSHDA rules requiring renters have certain maximum income levels, Lahti said, but the other six will be market rate with no maximum income level requirements.

The rent-controlled units must be in place five years, Lahti said, after which they can convert to market rates. The MSHDA loan he received for the project also will be forgiven after five years, essentially becoming a grant, as long as he conforms to MSHDA regulations during that time.

Lahti said he expects the MSHDA paperwork will be completed for the project in one to two months, then work can begin on construction, which could take a year to complete.

The next property toured was the former Croatian Co-Op building on Seventh and Elm streets, which now houses Bill’s Electric.

Building owner Craig Bachelor said he plans to construct five two-bedroom and two three-bedroom apartments on the top floor of the building.

Also on the tour was Tom Tikkanen, executive director of Main Street Calumet, who said the Croatian Co-Op building was constructed by Croatian immigrants as a place to sell daily household needs and as a social gathering place.

Bachelor said he intends to make the apartments energy- efficient, including placing solar panels on the roof, a central heating system, which can be converted to geo-thermal in the future, and high-efficiency appliances. The project will include the reuse of building materials, such as flooring, trim and ceiling tiles.

Bachelor said he’s not certain, yet, how the facade of the building will be completed, but he’s hoping to leave it as original as possible.

“We would like to leave the brick,” he said.

The final property on the tour was an example of how an existing building was repurposed: the former Baroni’s sauce company.

The property is now the Old School Bakery, and owner Sam Lockwood said it was constructed in 1908 for the Cohodas grocery distribution company, which at the time it operated was fairly large in the Midwest.

“This was a building that had historic significance,” he said.

The bakery began operations in the building in 2010, Lockwood said, but relatively little work had to be done to convert it from how the Baronis were using it.

Many of the components in the bakery came from other local buildings, such as the former Thurner’s Bakery on Fifth Street.

“We like to reclaim things, reuse things,” he said.

The top floor of the building is being converted to an apartment, and Lockwood said many of the features there came from other local buildings, also.

One of the MSHDA representatives taking the tour was Jim Davis, construction manager for the agency.

Davis said in deciding what projects to support, MSHDA officials look for projects that will help bring people into downtown areas, which in turn will help revitalize areas in economic distress.

“We like to bring vibrancy to the downtown,” he said.

Davis said MSHDA officials prefer to support projects that aren’t already being used.

“Our best projects are vacant space buildings,” he said.

Many of the buildings in Calumet fit well with the MSHDA preference for empty buildings, many of which are architecturally and historically significant.

“If we can save them, we will sure try,” he said. “Calumet’s done a great job with our program.”