"There is a lot of history to this building," Mayor Craig Moe said last week as he stood in front of the vacant, soon-to-be-razed building that once housed a Safeway, City Hall and the Laurel Police Department.
Moe was flanked by developers from Klingbeil Capital Management, the San Francisco-based company that plans to develop the 2-acre property at 350 Municipal Square into a mixed-use development that will bring 142 flat-style apartments into the city's designated arts district on C Street.
Moe, Klingbeil officials, Laurel City Council members, other city officials and residents gathered on Aug. 22 to witness the preface to the latest installment in the property's history as Klingbeil ceremonially broke ground on the project, which could be completed as early as September 2014.
"The vision for this property is to bring life and activity to Main Street," said Jim Callard, president of Klingbeil Capital Management. "We feel by taking this property and being able to populate here, it will help the shops on Main Street and generally begin to build the area."
The development, known as C Street Flats, will be a mix of one bedroom and two bedroom units ranging from 480 square feet to 910 square feet scattered between seven, three- and four-story buildings. The flat-style units are meant to attract local artists to the development, which is built in the city's arts and entertainment district.
Klingbeil will offer four types of units, and the vast majority — 86 percent — will be one-bedroom units. The most prevalent units are the junior one bedroom at 480 square feet, which will be 25 percent of the development, and a 550-square-foot one bedroom, which will make up approximately 59 percent of the development. Rates for the units have not yet been set, according to Callard.
"We believe the city has ensured it is going to get the project it wants and deserves here," Moe said.
Laurel Board of Trade Chairman Matthew Coates, who owns Photography by Madison, a small business on Main Street, said a development of this ilk along Main Street was "a long time coming."
"This is a shot of insulin we need here on Main Street," Coates said at last week's ceremony.
The development will also have 2,500 square feet of retail, although Callard said tenants have not yet been finalized.
"We are open to anything, we want it to be very community oriented," he said. "We have not really pushed on that yet."
Emphasis on arts
Callard said Klingbeil wants to make the retail space available to its neighbors in the arts district, which the new apartments are in the center of.
"We'd like to get uses in there that would square with the arts and entertainment people," he said. "We want to work closely with the arts people. ... We are looking forward to [being a part of the arts district]."
Moe added: "This project represents a unique investment in Laurel. It's one that benefits the overall city, but this is also where we are working hard to grow the city's arts and entertainment."
While city officials and developers believe the project will be a boon to the district, some local business owners are not as certain.
"I'm excited to see what happens, but I'm not sure about how it is going to effect us," said Deb Randall, owner of Venus Theatre Play Shack located across the street from the development. "I just hope we aren't paved over."
Randall said the increased foot traffic would be "great," but wasn't sure if the apartments, which are zoned to allow the units to be used as gallery space, were going to attract the artistic types.
Randy Kroop, a third-generation owner of A.M. Kroop & Sons — a custom shoe and boot-making business whose shop neighbors the new development — said she is also uncertain about what the future will hold.
"I have very mixed feelings. It will probably be good for the city, but we are used to our quiet little space and so it will be very different for us," she said. "It could be good for some with more people here."
Kroop said Klingbeil approached her early on in the process about buying her property, but that the negotiations didn't get much further along than casual conversation. Kroop added that, although the area is designated an arts and entertainment district, there's no way of knowing it.
"It's supposed to be an arts district, but all we have is a name," she said.
Karl Brendle, director of the city's Department of Community Planning and Business Services, said that will change with the new development.
"This will be the catalyst for other things to happen here," Brendle said.
Brendle said the city is in the process of commissioning a wrought-iron, Victorian-style sign denoting the arts district. The city will also hold a sculpture competition with the winning piece displayed in the district's new parklet, a small park with an outdoor amphitheater to be built between B and C streets using funds from the developer.
At the event, Klingbeil officials also announced the company had purchased the Emerson apartment complex on Fourth Street at Cherry Lane. The 445-unit complex, which was built in 2007 and originally called Westchester at Cherry Lane, was acquired by Klingbeil last week for $93 million, according to Callard. Klingbeil bought the property from Riverstone Residential Group in Texas.