Meeks calls $1M Elena Flats restoration project 'civic philanthropy"

  • By Max Marbut
  • | 12:00 p.m. October 27, 2015
  • | 5 Free Articles Remaining!
From left, architects Bill and Melody Bishop with JoAnn Tredennick and Jack Meeks, developers of the Elena Flats historic restoration project, outside the Downtown property.
From left, architects Bill and Melody Bishop with JoAnn Tredennick and Jack Meeks, developers of the Elena Flats historic restoration project, outside the Downtown property.
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In about 14 months, there will be four more market-rate units available in the Downtown apartment market.

But it will be much longer — likely years — before the project shows a profit for the developers.

Jack Meeks and his wife, JoAnn Tredennick, purchased the Elena Flats building at 122 E. Duval St. and have begun the historic restoration of the site.

While the couple paid just the lot value to secure the property — $45,000 — they plan to invest more than $1 million to restore the interior and exterior and install new plumbing, electrical service and HVAC.

Meeks, a member of the Downtown Investment Authority board of directors, said other than a federal historic preservation grant, they will not seek any financial or tax incentives for the project.

“This is going to cost us more than it’s worth, but there’s not enough city money to do all the Downtown projects that need to be done,” Meeks said. “It will take some civic philanthropy.”

Architects Bill and Melody Bishop are designing the restoration. Bill Bishop is a former City Council member and Melody Bishop is a former member of the Downtown Investment Authority board.

Meeks said the finished product will appeal to “niche market” renters who are looking for historic architecture in Downtown’s Cathedral District and are willing to pay market-rate rent.

By comparison, a 1,204-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath apartment at 220 Riverside in Brooklyn is listed for as much as $2,389 per month. A similar unit at 11 E. Forsyth St. is listed at $1,238-$1,388.

The two-story building is across Duval Street from the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and near St. Johns Cathedral and other churches.

“The street has a lot of potential,” said Bill Bishop.

Elena Flats is one of the few remaining Downtown apartment buildings constructed in the 20 years after the Great Fire of 1901 virtually destroyed the city, according to the historic landmark designation application approved by council.

Property records from 1913 identify more than 20 hotels, apartment buildings and boarding houses in the area defined by North Ocean Street, East Forsyth Street, East Church Street and Washington Street.

Only Elena Flats, the former Ensinger Apartments, now the Palms Hotel, at 129 N. Market St., and the Plaza Hotel, a single-family home at 353 E. Forsyth St. that was later converted into a hotel, remain.

The project is the fifth historic restoration for the couple, who have completed four projects in Springfield, including their home.

Part of the project is researching archival photographs and drawings of the building for the restoration. Some of the exterior architectural elements, including a cornice around the roof line, have been removed or fell off over the years.

Much of the original architecture inside, including fireplaces with marble mantles and transoms above the doors in each apartment, remains intact.

The original floor plan will be restored, creating four apartments, each about 1,700 square feet. At some point, the building was converted into a boarding house.

Meeks said based on numbers found on doors, there could have been as many as 25 rooms rented in the building, which has been unoccupied, at least technically, for quite some time.

“It has been 10 years since people lawfully lived here,” Meeks said.

When the project began, he said they found evidence that people had been living in some of the rooms and even underneath the front porch.

Barring unforeseen complications, which Meeks admitted can’t be ruled out in historic restoration, the apartments should be ready for rent in early 2017.

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(904) 356-2466



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