From A to Z, the Hattiesburg American city/government beat has you covered throughout the Pine Belt. Haskel Burns/Hattiesburg American
For the past several months, officials have been patiently awaiting tax credits to help transform the former Hattiesburg High School on Main Street into an age-restricted apartment development.
Those credits were awarded last week from the Mississippi Home Corporation, knocking out the first step in the project and paving the way for a hopeful spring construction start on the $10 million project.
"We’ve made it through this process, which means it’s actually going to happen," said Andrea Saffle, executive director of the Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association. "We had to get to this point to get the ball rolling, to get it started and moving.
"I’ve been so excited. This project is actually coming to fruition — it’s not just a ‘maybe’ or a ‘could be.’ It’s not going to be overnight, but something is starting to happen."
The upcoming facility, which is aimed at residents 62 years of age and older, is being undertaken by Jackson-based Intervest Corp. Tentatively called Preservation Crossing, the development is expected to offer 70 to 75 apartments that are 575 to 800 square feet per unit.
The majority of the units will be one-bedroom — although a handful of two-bedroom units may be available — and will feature a full kitchen, full bath and an on-site manager.
"I think this is important for that end of downtown," Saffle said. "It’s going to help create the momentum for the community arts center in the (former) Hattiesburg American building, and I think all of those things can build off each other and help each other happen.
"I think it’s huge for downtown — it’s such great news, and it shows that it can happen."
The next step for officials will be to shore up approximately $100,000 in gap funding and start part two of the application process for state and federal historic tax credits from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. As part of that process, officials will fine-tune of the construction documents in compliance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.
"We’re real excited — just getting the credits is a major hurdle," Intervest owner Steve Nail said. "So now we’re working towards all the things you have to do, all the way from getting the plans and specs … all the way down to making the economics work."
To keep the apartments affordable, Nail expects to set rent for the units at approximately $600 per month. A similar project in Pascagoula, where he converted an old school into apartments for elderly residents, has so far been a success.
"We’re still trying to get subsidies for the tenants that are going to live there," Nail said. "We’re trying to find ways that we can provide services and things like that through some type of subsidy payment."
Construction on the original multiple-story building, at 846 N. Main St., began in 1911. The facility was used as a school until 1959, after which it served as headquarters for Hattiesburg Public School District and was home to an antiques mall until 2001. The building, which has remained vacant since then, was heavily damaged in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina and again in 2007 by arson.
The facility was named a Mississippi Landmark in 1986 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. The historic aspect of the building will continue during renovation, as officials plan to keep the frame intact and build around it.
"(This project) is a great opportunity to invest in quality living spaces in the North Main Street area," Ward 2 Councilwoman Deborah Delgado said. "Hopefully it will breathe new life into challenged neighboring properties."