- Associated Press - Saturday, December 12, 2015

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - The old mail chute remains at the former Hoffman Hotel, next to the two original elevators, framed in wood - both tiny nods to the past.

Similar reminders show up in other parts of the 85-year-old building, from the decorative railing in the main stairwell to the pockmarked terrazzo floor in the lobby.

“They’ve done a really good job of preserving a lot of unique features of the building,” Chris Fielding, assistant executive director of Community Investment for the city, said of the developers. “I really like that.”

By and large, though, the former hotel in the heart of downtown has been completely updated over the past seven months, as Equal Development works to transform the 12-story structure into a modern apartment building for artists.

Plaster walls have been demolished and replaced with drywall; old, outdated flooring has been ripped up; plumbing, heating and cooling systems have been updated.



New windows - about 200 in total - are on order, and should arrive sometime late January or early February.

After that, it will be a race to finish the $5.3 million project before a planned ribbon-cutting early next year.

The fully renovated building will include 48 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments, studio and performance spaces, a gallery, a dark room, a bike room, and a penthouse “inspiration room” and lounge area.

As for the number of tenants, that remains to be seen.

According to property manager Tami Chin, who also manages Prairie Apartments, another Equal Development property in South Bend, just eight applications for residency have been approved at this point, out of 15 submitted.

Blame strict residency guidelines and a complicated application process.

While anyone who qualifies for affordable housing can apply for residency at the hotel, preference is given to artists.

On top of that, applicants must earn less than 60 percent of the median income for the area, or $24,120 for an individual or $34,380 for a family of four.

What constitutes an artist?

“I always tell people art is in the eye of the beholder,” Chin said, noting nontraditional artists such as culinary, tattoo or floral artists are welcome to apply for residency the same as painters or musicians.

Ultimately, the decision falls to a selection committee consisting of representatives of ownership and the city, hotel staff and local artists and/or entrepreneurs.

Despite the rigmarole, Chin said she expects demand for the units to only increase as the project nears completion.

The building sits in the middle of downtown - close to shops, restaurants, theaters and recreational opportunities - and offers stunning views of downtown and the larger metro area, including the University of Notre Dame.

And the price is right: rents range from $553 per month for a studio to $699 per month for a two-bedroom - or less depending on income.

“We probably get 10 to 15 calls per day,” Chin said. “So there’s a lot of interest.”

The city, which has invested $175,000 in the project - not including a $390,000 tax break - will be watching closely to see how it fairs.

The Hoffman is the first of several high-profile residential projects set to open next year, accounting for more than 260 new apartment or condo units and upward of $30 million in private investment downtown.

In that sense, the project is seen as a bellwether of sorts for the downtown housing market, which, according to a 2013 study, is capable of absorbing as many as 1,500 new housing units over the next 10 years.

“Certainly it’s the first residential building to come on line, and we want it to be successful,” Fielding said.

“Do I think it will be full on day one? No,” Fielding said. “But I certainly don’t think it will take long to fill up.”

More importantly, he said, the project will provide opportunities for housing for “a segment of the market that’s extremely underrepresented,” namely “starving artists.”

“So this offers diversity of housing in the market that is really needed,” Fielding said. “Without diversity of housing you won’t have diversity of people.”

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Source: South Bend Tribune, https://bit.ly/1NHgZkn

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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