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Historical R Street warehouse to become artist lofts

With a Valentine’s Day launch and the motto “show some love,” the Warehouse Artist Lofts project broke ground Thursday with plans to bring 116 new and renovated apartments to the R Street corridor between 11th and 12th Streets.

Citing the goal of creating live-work spaces for artists, the start-up is highly anticipated after 15 years of planning, financial challenges and site clean up.

State, county and city dignitaries gathered to herald the persistence and passion invested in the effort to revamp the century-old warehouse at 1108 R Street into affordable and market-rate apartments. Plans include 13,000 square-feet of ground-floor retail space along R Street and construction of 66 new apartments on the vacant lot next to the warehouse.

The project will bring apartments with estimated rents between $350 and $1,100, according to Ali Youssefi of CFY Development. He said the mixed-income, mixed-use nature of the project will contribute to its success.

“How can I get one of the $350 lofts?” asked an attendee at the groundbreaking.

“Do you know how to paint?” Youssefi replied.

CFY is working with Capital Area Development Authority and Holliday Development on the project previously known as Capitol Lofts and now called WAL.

Start-up of the $41 million WAL project was long delayed by the topsy-turvy housing market and other complexities including excavation of 5,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil from the site. According to state information, the site had a number of occupants from 1895 to present, and uses included wood and coal storage and a paint shop warehouse. The state moved in by 1940 and used the warehouse for storage. CADA received a loan from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields grant program to help pay for the site cleanup.

Last summer the project received more than $18 million in tax credits for low-income housing; a crucial piece of financing needed to finalize the design. Construction is expected to last 2 years.

During an earlier discussion about the project, Youssefi commented on the character of the warehouse. “This is such an iconic building,” he said. “Our idea is to leave as many historical characteristics as possible.” The freight elevator with its high shaft and multi-paned windows will house a modern elevator for residents. The old elevator once hauled Model T cars when the warehouse was used for storage. The concrete columns, exposed ceilings and banks of industrial windows will stay.

“You can’t replicate a building like this, he said. “We will keep as many features and artifacts in tact and on display as possible. They tell the history.”

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