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Watertown leaders given tour as Woolworth Building’s renaissance takes shape (VIDEO)


WATERTOWN — Donald W. Rutherford envisions an upscale restaurant opening in the prime ground-floor commercial space of the Woolworth Building, now undergoing a $17 million renaissance after years of deterioration.

Patrons would have views of Public Square and Washington Street in the space that once housed a Rite Aid drug store, he said.

“I think it’ll be a great space,” said Mr. Rutherford, CEO of the Watertown Local Development Corp.

He and two dozen other public officials and community leaders toured the historic Public Square landmark Wednesday to see how construction has progressed since it began in November.

Now about 25 percent completed, the redevelopment of the six-story building — where one of the first F.W. Woolworth stores operated for decades — will provide commercial space on the ground level as well as 50 upper-floor apartments.

The project is being funded by private investment, state Homes and Community Renewal housing tax credits, a $2.5 million Restore NY grant and other state funding.

To avoid changes to the housing tax credit program, co-developer Erich H. Seber guaranteed the project will be completed by the end of the year, with the apartments ready for occupancy early next year.

“We’re right on time,” he said, noting the project remains on budget.

While work still remains on the ground floor, Mr. Seber said he won’t start marketing some 11,000 square feet of commercial space until potential tenants can see what it will look like.

It may feature a mixture of office and retail space, and a high-end restaurant Mr. Rutherford would like to see. The corner entrance for the drug store will no longer be used, and will be replaced by a large, curved window that stored displays when it was the Woolworth store.

“It’s a great building,” Mr. Seber said. “Everyone knows its importance.”

All of the 35 one-bedroom and 15 two-bedroom units will be considered affordable housing, with monthly rent in the $600 to $700 range. Ten apartments are on each of the second through sixth floors.

Crews began with asbestos and lead paint removal on the lower floors. Now that they are on the sixth floor, their work soon will be done. They’ll be followed by masons who will complete their part of the mammoth undertaking, Mr. Seber said.

The project employs about 65 construction and other workers, but that number should increase to about 100 at its peak. The contracting team of Purcell-LeCesse Joint Venture is the general contractor.

On the second floor, metal-stud framing has been installed so the footprint of the 650- to 750-square-foot apartments is somewhat recognizable. While going through one unit, Mr. Seber pointed out the location of the kitchen, living room and two bedrooms.

High-efficiency refrigerators and other appliances and fixtures will be used. When a toilet needs to be repaired or a tenant complains about an apartment’s temperature, the maintenance staff will be notified through a monitoring system via email, Mr. Seber said.

To get tax credits, much of the original look of the 93-year-old building will be kept intact, Mr. Seber said.

The original elevator doors and framing will be used, while their cabs will be replaced. Mail slot drops will still be in place but not be used. Many of the original window casings have been incorporated into the project.

On the first floor, an old bank vault will be turned into a computer and library area. That section of the building will house community space, including an exercise area and kitchen.

Work soon will start on turning some green space across the street off Public Square, between Cam’s Pizzeria and the Woodruff Professional Building, into a 31-space lot for tenant parking.

Kenneth A. Mix, the city’s planning and community development coordinator, had not been in the building since the work began in November. “It’s great to see the progress they’ve made,” he said.

Video from the tour can be found at:

Woolworth Building tour
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