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Jax Daily Record Friday, Mar. 1, 200212:00 PM EST

Knight building renovation offers surprises

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by Michele Newbern Gillis

Staff Writer

The restoration of the W.A. Knight building on West Adams Street has a revealed a few surprises, pushing the move-in date to June.

“With historical restorations, you get surprises,” said Michael Langton, president of Langton Associates, who is developing the building into 12 loft apartments with retail on the first floor. “We’ve had to dig this long trench that we didn’t think of because we thought the water and electrical access were going to be adequate and they weren’t. So we had to cut new lines. It’s just been things like that.”

When complete, the building will house the first loft apartments available downtown. One apartment is already leased and there are 55 potential tenants on a mailing list.

Langton says the delays are just part of the business.

“As you tear down walls, you uncover issues and problems,” he said. “Sometimes you find some fun things. My partner, Chris Brown, and I are both experienced restorers, so we expect surprises. But you don’t know how much time it’s going to cost you. We are prepared and we have excess money in our budget for surprises.”

The project has a budget of $1.7 million.

One surprise was the facade of the building. Once the original brick was revealed, a decision was made to restore it to its natural beauty. As the process continued, the developers found that much of the brick on the left side of the building was gone.

“We think we found about a thousand bricks at Burkhalter Wrecking, but the problem is that they are not as thick,” said Langton. “We will deal with that by moving them out a little bit and make the mortar a little bigger. The other problem is that the other bricks are not the same color, so we are going to have to either paint it or dye it or something to try to get it the same color.”

Another surprise came when they removed the flooring in the entrance way, exposing intricate 1920s tile, which will be restored.

“We didn’t know it was here, but this was one of our fun surprises,” said Langton. “This is just something you deal with in historical preservations, which makes it challenging.”

The entire building is 20,000 square feet and there are two retail spaces on the bottom floor. One is 2,600 square feet and the other is 2,400 square feet. The Mossfire Grill was interested in the larger space, but the deal fell through.

Langton said another restaurant, which he declined to name, was interested in the space. He did say that it was a local restaurant with good credentials.

“The neat thing about the 2,600 square-foot space is that you can go through the back doorway and access the courtyard,” said Langton. “If this space gets rented as a restaurant, they can have outside dining in the courtyard. We would like to see a restaurant or something that will serve the downtown workers and residents.”

For the moment, though, leasing the retail space in not a top concern.

“Until the spaces are done and it’s pretty out front, we are not trying to lease the space,” said Langton. “But it will definitely be all retail on the first floor.”

To keep the original twisting staircase, Langton cut a hole in the center of the building and installed another staircase connecting the three floors to meet the fire code. A new elevator will also be installed.

“Another issue when restoring a historic building is the conflict between building to fire codes and historic preservation,” he said. “The historic people say in order to get historic tax credits you have to leave the staircase and the fire department says if you are going to get a building permit, then you have to tear it out. They are always in conflict. So we figured out a compromise and are building a whole other staircase.”

Currently, the walls are framed and some of the drywall is in place. Langton said all of the major systems, including plumbing, heating and air conditioning and electric work are complete.

The floors still need to be restored and interior cabinets, doors and bathroom and kitchen fixtures still need to be installed.

“We are taking out the original wood windows, stripping them and meticulously rebuilding each and every one of them,” said Langton. “It is costing us a small fortune, but it is the right thing to do. The building will have its original 1920s windows.”

Accents include the original smoked glass windows, which will be incorporated into hallway to keep the original look.Those not used in the hallway will be incorporated into the apartment walls. The original hallway doors, which cannot be used as entrance doors, will be used as bathroom doors.

“Every apartment is unique and different,” said Langton. “Each one has different number of windows, different angled walls and different placement of the beams,” said Langton. “The consistent thing will be the high ceilings, wood beams and wood floors. We are looking for empty nesters and young professionals. They are our market.”

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