Mobile agrees to sell City Hall North for apartment project

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The Mobile City Council has approved the sale of the Water Street building known as City Hall North, clearing its way

The Mobile City Council has approved the sale of the Water Street building known as City Hall North, clearing its way for redevelopment as an apartment complex, and a consultant on the project said that groundbreaking could come next spring.

District 2 Councilman Levon Manzie announced his "100 percent support" for the project and pledged to assist developers any way he could.

"I can't think of a better way to describe 350 St. Joseph Street than to say it's not now needed for public or municipal purposes," Manzie said as the council voted. "It has been a blight on that corner of DeTonti Square for a long time. And that entrance is one of the gateways to our beautiful city."

"I know those employees who worked at old City Hall North are not sad to see it go," commented Council President Gina Gregory. "It will be a tremendous improvement."

Occupying a roughly triangular lot where St. Joseph Street hits Water Street, the building was constructed in the late 1940s as a hotel for visiting seamen. It was designed by architect John Platt Roberts, whose legacy includes UMS-Wright and Mobile Infirmary.

The city bought it in 1982 and used it as office space; the building became known as City Hall North. But 20 years later a variety of problems had cropped up, including asbestos contamination and mold. By 2003, city employees had been moved out. After plans fell through to build a new police headquarters on the site, the city put it on the market, initially asking about $930,000. And there it sat for more than a decade.

Last week the City Council learned that Seaman's Hall LLC had made an offer to buy it for its current appraised value, about $548,000.

After Tuesday's vote approving the sale, historic preservation consultant Stephen McNair said that the building qualifies for historic status and that developers are applying to have it added to the historic registry. Historic tax credits can then be used in the project, which McNair said is estimated to cost about $7 million overall. McNair described the design as "Mid-century modern with Art Deco elements."

"The character of the building is going to be maintained while modernizing it for new use," said McNair.

Plans call for it to include approximately 70 apartment units; general contractor Michael Coumanis said he expects all or most of them to be single-bedroom units. Other amenities, according to McNair, will include gate off-street parking, a rooftop deck with outdoor patio and a dog park.

McNair also confirmed that Seaman's Hall LLC plans to purchase a property across the street that has been used off and on as a bar, demolish it, and redevelop it as a commercial site for a business or business that could serve apartment patrons.

The project joins two other major residential developments nearby. A groundbreaking ceremony is planned Wednesday for the 250-unit Meridian at the Port apartment complex, which will sit across Water Street from the Seaman's Hall project. And it recently was announced that the 18-story former Merchants National Bank building a few blocks to the south will be redeveloped to house 84 upscale loft apartments.

McNair said he didn't think the number of projects represented an impending glut.

"When you look at the size of Mobile, and you look at the existing number of residential options in downtown, we don't believe the market is going to be saturated."

City Hall North has a reputation for environmental problems that made it an unpleasant place to work, and McNair said that the first stage of the renovation will involve cleaning out "a substantial amount of asbestos, lead and mold." But "the developers have a lot of experience with this kind of project," he added.

"It has problems, but nothing that can't be remediated," said Coumanis. "I've seen a lot worse, trust me. Walking in there, it's not near as bad as you'd think it would be." He added that the top two floors weren't remodeled by the city, so they still appear as they did when the building was a hotel. McNair said other original elements include a terrazzo floor in the lobby.

"We're going to put a lot of attention to the landscape features," McNair said, because developers want the property to have a welcoming presence. "We're going to preserve as much of the historic character as possible."

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Article Mobile agrees to sell City Hall North for apartment project compiled by Original article here

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