WATERTOWN — The Lincoln Building’s facade will be restored this fall, thanks to a grant of up to $200,000 approved Thursday by the Watertown Local Development Corp.’s board of directors.
The corporation, also known as the Watertown Trust, voted unanimously in favor of the grant to Washington Street Properties, a real estate firm owned by developer Brian H. Murray. Mr. Murray said Thursday that he is optimistic the project could help lure anchor tenants to now-empty storefronts this fall at the downtown landmark, 88-99 Public Square. The Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce, which is selling its building at 1241 Coffeen St., has been made an offer by Mr. Murray to move into the Lincoln Building.
“I think they would be a fantastic tenant and would give me an extremely competitive property,” said Mr. Murray, whose firm co-owns the building with Purcell Construction Co., Watertown.
Work on the five-story facade will begin the $1 million first phase of the long-term project, which will include upgrading the 8,000-square-foot first-floor commercial space on the ground floor. In the spring, the building’s rear entrance and exterior will be restored.
Mr. Murray said the Watertown Trust’s grant was needed to kick start the project. The landmark has sat idle for about a year because the project has been unable to get state funding. The overall plan for the restoration — estimated at $12 million — calls for converting upper floors into apartments, but that portion of the project has been put on hold until affordable-housing tax credits can be acquired, Mr. Murray said.
A total of 36 apartments would be constructed under the plan.
Donald W. Rutherford, CEO of the Watertown Trust, said contributing funding toward the restoration of the building is in keeping with the agency’s mission: to make downtown an attractive place to live, shop and eat.
“We have the financial resources to handle it, and the project will make the building stand out and make it viable to get an anchor tenant,” Mr. Rutherford said.
Additional funding for the work will include a $150,000 grant from the state Homes and Community Renewal’s Urban Initiatives and Main Street program.
Washington Properties will invest $650,000 of its own equity, Mr. Murray said, in addition to the $750,000 it has already invested in pre-development expenses.
Mr. Murray said his firm is also working with Neighbors of Watertown Inc. to secure a $250,000 grant from Empire State Development that could go toward the project, but that funding could be contingent on obtaining state tax credits.