New year, new homes in Downtown Lenoir

LENOIR, NC (December 16, 2020) — The new year will bring new places to live in Downtown Lenoir as developers finish up work on two new housing projects in the heart of the city.

Jesse Plaster is building five apartments at 1001 West Ave. in downtown, and Steven and Jamie Stewart are working on converting 819 Harper Ave. into a mixed-used building with office space on the first floor and an apartment on the second story. Stewart hopes to finish up in February and Plaster is looking to start renting out units in the spring.

Plaster’s apartments on West Avenue will be three bedrooms and two baths. The apartments will have an elevator and indoor parking. There’s already a private gym on the lower level of the building, and Plaster plans to subdivide the main floor into three spaces to lease for retail, restaurant, or a business.

“The demand for housing in Lenoir is very strong,” Plaster said. “Empty nesters as well as younger people who want to have access to amenities and be part of the energy and vitality of downtown. Also, there are a lot of people who work at Exela, Greer Labs, or Google, who are looking for rentals, and there aren’t many options for them right now.”

The purple icons above show locations of current downtown housing. The red icons show Plaster’s and Stewart’s new projects and the teachery building on Ashe Avenue.

Less than 500 feet southeast from 1001 West Avenue is 819 Harper. Stewart said renovating the building is a way to help support the city and other downtown shops and restaurants. Stewart opened his own insurance business in 2018 and has been renting office space on US 321. The building on Harper has been vacant for a while, so Stewart contacted the property owner and made an offer. Stewart plans to move his business office into downtown and the the second floor will be a three bedroom, two bath apartment. The unit is right beside one of the City’s signature sculptures, Across the Grain by Thomas Sayre.

“This building was a good opportunity to invest in downtown,” Stewart said about 819 Harper. “I love to support local businesses, so once I move my office, and we have some more tenants living upstairs, the additional traffic will help everyone in the district.”

Workers have already started renovations on of 819 Harper Ave. The first floor will house Stewart’s insurance company, and the second story will be a three-bedroom.
Jesse Plaster stands in the living space of the largest apartment at 1001 West Ave. All five apartments in the building shared the same design scheme including original hardwood floors, walk-in shower and full baths, subway tile, and modern lighting and ceiling fans.
The corner windows and New Orleans style balcony of the corner unit face east. Residents in the unit will be able to open their door during the warmer months and look out on downtown events and festivals.

Across the street from 819 Harper is 818 Harper Ave., which was renovated by Maurer Architecture in 2019 and opened in January this year. It’s now home to a barber shop on the main floor and an apartment on the second. To the west, at 122 Boundary St. is Plaster’s first redevelopment project in downtown. The building is currently home to a clothing shop on the lower floor and an Airbnb rental on the upper. Just north, across the street, is 916 West Ave., which was recently converted to commercial and residential space, and further up on Ashe Avenue is a three-unit teachery that was recently built by the Education Foundation, Inc. of Caldwell County. The teachery condos will be used as an incentive to recruit new teachers to Caldwell County.

Many of these projects and others in the City have been spurred by City staff or assisted by City programs. Getting new, market-rate housing built in Lenoir has been a priority for City Council for several years. Staff has used grants, code enforcement, and communication to drive development. Downtown Economic Development Director Kaylynn Horn worked with Plaster on the Boundary Street building and with Maurer Architecture on 818 Harper. She also assisted with redevelopment of several other downtown residences via the Moving Lenoir to the Second Floor program.

The teachery building on Ashe Avenue contains three units to provide downtown living options for local teachers.

“The idea behind Moving Lenoir to the Second Floor was very simple, yet very powerful,” Horn said. “It’s hard to get dozens of downtown property owners and developers to conferences to learn about historic tax credits and how downtown redevelopment can be done. So, we decided to bring the conference to them.”

In early 2016, Horn brought together a group of architects, property owners, and downtown stakeholders to discuss North Carolina Building Code, rehabilitation of historic structures, and utilizing historic tax credits. Horn also offered workshops on “The Power of PNC” and “Mortar Matters ~ Making CENTS of Historic Tax Credits.” The discussions in these workshops opened up eyes and opportunities for redevelopment in downtown.

“The dialogue and open conversation that transpired among these stakeholders continues to benefit us today,” Horn said, “It was powerful to have everyone in a room together.”

In addition to the workshops, the City used grant funding to support walkthroughs with architects in various buildings. Staff collected data and took pictures and notes on many historic buildings. Property owners then had a clear and realistic idea of the potential their buildings offered and an idea of what it would take to reach that potential.

Moving Lenoir to the Second Floor brought experienced architects into 21 downtown properties, consulting one-on-one with 19 property owners. Seven owners completed architectural schematic design work and four projects have been completed including Folk Keeper Art Gallery and Charles Babb Jewelry Design. From July of 2016 to June of 2017, the downtown saw more than $1 million private investment in property acquisition/sales and $480,000 in private improvements.

Two of the sites mentioned above were rescue operations to save the buildings from being demolished. Both 818 Harper and 122 Boundary faced code violations, were unsafe, and were under threat of being demolished. Staff collaborated with the owners to place the properties into the hands of those who worked to save these historic buildings and put the sites back into use.

Stewart’s and Plaster’s projects will build on the momentum generated by the program and bring more energy and people into Downtown Lenoir. Both men said they feel confident in their abilities to rent out their spaces.

“Lenoir is a really cool place to be right now, especially for young professionals that want to grow and help the community,” Stewart said.

Note: This is the first of a three-part series on new housing in the City of Lenoir.