- Associated Press - Sunday, May 18, 2014

PORT HURON, Mich. (AP) - Lofts in the Ben’s Fine Furniture building are expected to be done soon.

Work on the 11 luxury lofts began late last year, said Dave Witt, who owns the lofts with his wife, Georgina.

The WittsPort Huron loft total will reach 43 upon completion, he told the Times Herald of Port Huron ( http://bwne.ws/1oaLEud ). The Witts have completed six other loft renovation projects, the majority in downtown Port Huron, and including the construction of the Arashi Lofts just north of the Military Street Bridge.

“I picture it when they’re done, and it’s going to be very neat looking,” Dave Witt said.

The Witts purchased the landmark furniture store, which has been in downtown Port Huron for 62 years, in December 2012. Ben’s Clearance Center remains on the first floor of the building.

The lofts will be on the second and third floors.

Just as with their other lofts, the Witts won’t have trouble filling them - they already have a list of potential renters.

It’s unclear what the rent will be at this point, but the range for the Witts‘ other lofts is $700 to $950 a month plus utilities.

Dave Witt said there have been some people who move after a year or so, but there also are many tenants who have been there for at least four years.

He said he has noticed a change in downtown since he and his wife started adding lofts about seven years ago.

“The town used to be a ghost town when we started. It isn’t anymore,” Witt said, talking about the bustling downtown bars and restaurants.

The increase in downtown living and added vibrancy of business and entertainment are related, said Kevin Vettraino, regional planner at the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.

“Anything our communities can do to attract (people) in cities like Port Huron or Plymouth or Royal Oak or Ferndale or places that have downtowns that are walkable and vibrant, it’s a great thing to add residents to that mix,” Vettraino said.

Adding downtown living spaces is a major component to revitalization, he said.

“To keep (people) there and have life on the street, activity going on past five o’clock when people leave their jobs and go back home,” Vettraino said. “… That’s how the cities were originally set up. People worked, did all of their shopping and living within the downtown, and we’ve lost that with the generations. Bringing it back is a good thing.”

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