Representatives of some of Wayne County’s largest employers were among those eagerly voting to move forward with contributing $2 million toward approximately 150 new apartments in downtown Richmond.

It was the first step in many public approvals of a local financial package, said Valerie Shaffer, president of Economic Development Corp. of Wayne County.

“There’s been a demand for this type of housing for a really long time, and the fact we’re able to couple meeting that demand with the investment in downtown Richmond and being a catalyst for future investments I think makes that project even more important,” Shaffer said. “It’s not only accomplishing filling a much-needed housing gap but it’s helping to revitalize downtown Richmond.”

During their Nov. 8 meeting, EDC board members heard from Deron Kintner, vice president of development and special advisor for Indianapolis-based Flaherty & Collins Properties.

Kintner shared photos and information about the company’s previous successes with similar public-private partnerships in small and large communities around Indiana over the past 30 years, such as The Depot at Nickel Plate in Fishers, and The Arbuckle apartments and retail space in Brownsburg.

He said the company’s most similar project to Richmond’s would be the $32 million Whiskey River apartments that opened last year in Lawrenceburg.

The rented apartments are popular with young professionals and empty nesters who want less maintenance and more social opportunities, Kintner said.

Nearly all would be one or two bedrooms, plus a few studios and about 4,000 square feet of retail space, likely for a food/beverage provider.

Kintner said Flaherty & Collins apartments generally offer a clubroom with billiards, bike repair shop and secured storage, business center, co-working spaces, makers room, fitness center, pet wash and pool. He noted the possibility of pickleball courts and golf simulators.

Residents would park in about a third of the spaces in the nearby city garage. It’s not feasible to save the connecting skywalk, Kintner said.

Although experts investigated the possibility of renovating the approximately 50-year-old former Elder-Beerman store, they determined that demolition must occur. The existing concrete and steel will be recycled and kept out of Richmond’s landfill.

The current site doesn’t have enough water, sewer or electric utilities for that many apartments.

Cutting in windows also was projected to cost millions. Elder-Beerman officials had insisted the City of Richmond build an explosion-proof building for the store to commit to the city just after the 1968 explosions.

Because local officials have become concerned about the conditions of some downtown properties owned by out-of-state or out-of-country owners, the EDC bought the store after it closed in 2018 and transferred ownership to the City of Richmond to preserve it until the right opportunity presented itself.

Wayne County is spending about $75,000 a year on that preservation as EDC marketed the building. Local officials have decided they don’t want to spend additional money on site maintenance and already began discussing plans for demolition in 2024.

Richmond Mayor-elect Ron Oler addressed the EDC board, showing his support for the project. He expressed confidence in the developer’s abilities and expects this project to be the cornerstone for the next phase of downtown development.

Oler said he anticipates completion of a lot of other 6- to 12-month projects there before construction is complete in two to three years.

Shaffer said the apartments complement other nearby initiatives such as Elstro Plaza, Whitewater Gorge Connector Trail and Gorge Activation Plan.

EDC members representing higher education, Reid Health and Belden said they anticipate high demand from employees who can’t find acceptable housing in Richmond and drive from nearby large cities where they spend their money.

About 12,500 people commute daily to Wayne County for work.

Kintner estimated rent would be about $1,100 per month for a studio, $1,200 to $1,300 for one bedroom and $1,300 to $1,350 for two bedrooms. Most Richmond complexes now charge $750 to $950 monthly without those amenities, Shaffer said.

The EDC recently commissioned a housing study that found demand for amenities in a downtown, walkable area. Shaffer said there’s a 1.1% vacancy rate for market-rate apartments in Richmond. Chester Heights Apartments on the city’s north side recently leased 96 new units, mostly to new residents, and has a really long wait list, she said.

Board member Kyle Turner of Centerville said the project would “totally re-energize this area,” and said this catalyst to downtown Richmond would benefit the entire county.

“I’ve had a lot of fun working on this project, knowing what it could mean for the future of the city,” Shaffer said.

The board voted to recommend spending $2 million from Consolidated EDIT on the project. Yes votes were from Jim Tanner, Tony Foster, Chad Bolser, Marty Van Der Burgt, Sherrilyn Johnson, Brad Robinson, Jim King and Turner. Peter Zaleski voted no and Mike Gaddis abstained because his employer is part of the financing.

Kintner and Shaffer will seek approval during the Nov. 15 Wayne County council/commissioners’ workshop and also approach Richmond Redevelopment Commission and Richmond Common Council for their support.

Shaffer expects some of those approvals would take place after Oler takes office as mayor. She felt it was important for the EDC board and public to know Oler supports the project before making its financial commitment.

“I worked along Mayor Snow for many years in working to find a viable development for this property, then working to finalize the details of it,” Shaffer said. “I’m proud of the work that we did and I’m very pleased to see we have ongoing support from the mayor-elect as well.”

Who’s chipping in for new apartments?

Here’s the proposed budget and funding sources for apartments at the site of the former Elder-Beerman store at Sixth and Main streets in Richmond.

  • Total budget: $36,667,356+
  • Flaherty & Collins (developer) commitment: $21,667,356+
  • Local commitment: $8.9 million. City cash contribution $3.45 million, $2.45 million project-based TIF bond, $2 million Consolidated EDIT cash contribution; $1 million Wayne County Foundation Impact Investing Loan
  • State commitment: $6.1 million ($3.6 million redevelopment tax credits, $2.5 million READI 1.0 funds)
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A version of this article appeared in the November 15 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.