Photo by Todd Razor
Photo by Todd Razor
Hubbell Realty Co. is gearing up for two projects that will add 149 affordable apartment units to the downtown market.

Renovation of the historic warehouses, including the former Hawkeye Transfer Co. warehouse, 702 Elm St., and the former Schmitt-Henry Manufacturing Co. complex, 309 S.W. Eighth St., is expected to begin this spring, said Steve Niebuhr, Hubbell's senior vice president of construction and management services.

"We have been using (them) as storage buildings until we could come up with a project that made financial sense," Niebuhr said, adding that Hubbell has been leasing out most of the space. That enterprise, which "basically covers the carrying cost of the building," he said, has not been very profitable.

The Hawkeye Transfer building, more commonly known as the Rocket Transfer building, was built by Frederick Hubbell, founder of F.M. Hubbell and Son, which ultimately became Hubbell Realty Co. Hubbell has retained ownership of the building since its construction in 1901, Niebuhr said.

The Schmitt-Henry Manufacturing Co. warehouse, a series of three buildings constructed between 1901 and 1914, came to be known as the Sealy Building in 1973, when a division of Sealy Mattress Co. continued to occupy it after Schmitt-Henry, considered in the early 1900s to be one of the Midwest's largest furniture manufacturers, moved to West Des Moines. Hubbell purchased the property for $75,000 in 1994.

"This project will be reborn as the River Point Lofts project," said Brian Shiffler, managing partner of Shiffler Associates Architects PLC, the architect for both developments.

The Hawkeye Transfer building development has been dubbed Rocket Transfer Lofts.

Shiffler, who has watched the number of historic factory and warehouse facilities in Greater Des Moines dwindle in recent years - some demolished and others repurposed - said he is glad his firm was commissioned to these projects.

"Both buildings have an incredible natural palette of materials," he said. "With their great age comes a structure and use of materials that could not be found today. The fact that we get to make it into housing is very exciting."

Conventional studs and drywall will be used in the buildout, Shiffler added, but the firm is making every possible effort to expose as much of the original structure and exterior masonry walls as possible.

"Every time we found a building idiosyncrasy or some historical point of interest ... we tried to preserve it," he said. "It helps tell the tale of the building.

"We want the character to shine."

Proudfoot, Bird and Rawson was the original architect of the Schmitt-Henry complex, which is the "earliest unaltered Des Moines example of (the firm's) design work and the only major industrial design by that firm," according to a historical report of the property prepared for Hubbell by James Jacobsen in 2006.

On Dec. 22, the Des Moines City Council passed a resolution recommending that both projects be approved for Enterprise Zone benefits and Low Income Housing Tax Credits to the Iowa Department of Economic Development and the Iowa Finance Authority, respectively.

The developer is also pursuing state and federal historic tax credits for the projects, which have a combined cost of construction estimated at $27.4 million. Construction is expected to begin in the spring and be completed in early 2010.

Rents for the units, ranging in size from 530 to 1,419 square feet, will start at $540 per month and top out at $730.

"These very unique structures will become very interesting apartments," Shiffler said.