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AUTHENTIC LIVING

by Daniel Schere

daniel@yesweekly.com | @Daniel_Schere

Not too many apartment lofts are created entirely from repurposed building, but for the 242 tenants of Plant 64, they will have a unique experience.

The complex is still under construction, but the first 21 units were leased July 1, with all of the units scheduled to be completed by December 20, according to Leasing Consultant Joseph Boyles.

The center already includes a pool with a patio and area for grilling, a conference center with a TV, a fitness center, a yoga studio, and a basketball court that will soon be completed. The development also contains a conference center that both residents and nonresidents can reserve. It will soon contain computers as well.

The lofts on the upper floors offer striking views of the city skyline. Rents range from $885 to $1800 per month.

Many of the original features remain from the former RJ Reynolds Tobacco Factory, which was built in 1916, including a scale and a lift shaft. The building housing the tenant office has been kept completely intact. This can make walking through the space seem like a cross between a museum tour and a luxury cruise.

“When I first started I was like, look at these gorgeous wooden ceilings, oh my gosh they’re so beautiful,” Boyles said. “Well actually they’re concrete, it was just poured before the invention of plywood so they had to build their own molds. Then when the concrete settled they took it down and it left this beautiful wood look.”

Boyles grew up in Winston-Salem but attended Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk before returning recently to work at Plant 64.

“When I left, Winston-Salem was the place you would come to pay your parking ticket and that’s pretty much it, downtown that is,” he said. “And in those short eight years it was the biggest transformation I have ever witnessed.”

Boyles said the energy cost for each loft is between $50 and $60 and the fact that all of the buildings only had to be redeveloped, not built from scratch, makes them much more sustainable.

“There’s not one building that we constructed,” he said. “We took it from the past and gave it a whole new life. And that’s what the Innovation Quarter is all about.”

Winston-Salem planning department director Paul Norby said he also thinks Plant 64 will be more environmentally friendly than a newly built apartment complex.

“You’re not demolishing buildings and sending materials to the landfill but you’re making use of them and so, from an overall sustainability standpoint, making use of these buildings is the best way one can be efficient,” he said.

When the project is completed, the abandoned railroad track that runs behind the complex will be torn up and converted into a greenway that will connect to the Salem Creek Greenway. This will be part of the Rails to Trails Conservancy mission, which seeks to convert old railways into pedestrian pathways as part of the conservation movement . Norby said he is excited about the development because he thinks it will keep job growth within the city’s urban core.

“It’s going to be a big addition to this eastern side of downtown because it’s going to add more residential units and some commercial opportunities, so it will be very good given that we have lots of new employment that has happened in the Innovation Quarter,” he said.

Co-developer Chris Harrison, who is based in Washington, D.C., said he was approached in 2011 by Durham developer Tom Niemann who had drawn up plans for a mixed-use facility on the site but had decided not to continue with the project. Harrison partnered with Philadelphia-based Pennrose Development and Property Management Company to carry out Niemann’s vision.

“We could just see this was going to be a very exciting time for Winston- Salem, an exciting group of development centered in this old Reynolds Quarter, so we just wanted to be a part of it because we thought it was going to be something that blossomed into a great part of town for Winston-Salem,” Harrison said.

Preservation Planner Paige Pollard of Commonwealth Preservation Group in Norfolk, Virginia said their organization worked with the developers by advising them on how to treat the structure.

“When you’re dealing with historic properties, you have to take specific circumstances into account,” she said. “So we started with a photograph of Plant 64 and did a pretty thorough investigation of what the historic materials were that remained, whether they were in good shape or not.”

Commonwealth Preservation Group has participated in development projects between South Carolina and Maryland. Pollard said the plans for Plant 64, like many projects, were drawn from past projects to some extent.

“In a lot of cases we rely on precedent for what’s been approved or disapproved for similar types of buildings,” she said.

Plant 64, like many recent development projects in Winston-Salem, was funded in large part by a combination of federal and state historic tax credits that make up between $17 million and $20 million, or about half of the project’s total cost. It is unclear whether North Carolina’s historic tax credit program will exist in 2015, depending on whether leaders in the General Assembly decide to renew it.

Pollard said her group prepared the tax credit application for Plant 64 based on their research and added that all of the projects they have been involved in have been funded by historic tax credits.

Harrison also said many of his development projects have used the historic tax credits and thinks not renewing them would be a major detriment to North Carolina.

“That tax credit was a major driver in getting all of that work done,” he said.

Norby also said the tax credits were instrumental in making the construction of Plant 64 possible.

“In the current economic climate, the tax credits have been just pivotal in making those projects happen so I don’t know if any of those projects would’ve gotten done,” he said. !

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