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Team effort results in new housing for Iron River

Old school’s history is maintained while it’s turned into apartments.

May 16, 2014
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A bit of teamwork is transforming a 129-year-old school building into some desperately needed housing stock in an Upper Peninsula town.

Hovey Companies LLC, Iron River Downtown Development Authority, Gryphon Group LLC, Wolverine Building Group, Barry J. Polzin Architects and The Bank of Northern Michigan collaborated to convert the Central School in Iron River into a 22-unit apartment building.

Bank officials called it “one of the most unique renovation development projects ever undertaken in Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula.”

The old schoolhouse is an example of Dutch Colonial Revival-style architecture. Now, it will feature Apple Blossom Apartments and offer affordable housing units to area residents.

Tim Hovey said getting his development firm involved was a no-brainer.

“I wanted to be involved with bringing back the historic school and being a part of the revitalization of a community,” Hovey said. “It is rewarding to be involved with helping someone else reach their goals. That is what it is about, for me — being a part of something where the end result is the greater good for a community.”

The ending nearly wasn’t so rosy, however.

According to Lake Michigan Financial Corp., parent of The Bank of Northern Michigan, the developer was having difficulty filling the financing gap with appropriate sources, so LMFC entered as an investor partner. LMFC and the DDA so strongly supported the project in meetings with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority that the developer was able to present a case for additional financial support. The last dollars were supplied by HOME funds to bridge the financial gap, and construction commenced.

“Our team takes a keen interest in the development of Michigan, from the U.P. to downriver,” said Chip Windisch of LMFC. “When Michigan’s towns and cities grow, we all benefit. And when it all comes together like this project has, we are proud to contribute to Michigan growth.”

The Iron River DDA identified the Central School building as a key resource linking the senior community center and recreational facilities with the downtown corridor. DDA officials were eager to preserve a building that provides a common history to so many Iron River residents, while hoping the new development would foster a renewed sense of pride in the downtown area and spur further revitalization within the business district.

Hovey said completion of the building, scheduled for this spring, will add significant residential traffic and contribute to the stabilization of the retail district.

“The housing stock here (Iron River) is limited,” he said. “We will have new units with modern amenities not only in the aesthetics but the technology, as well. The location is great — right downtown — and walkable to several businesses, so it helps strengthen the downtown community.”

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