If you like your ceilings high and your brick exposed, Clayton may have a place for you someday soon.
After nearly a year of being stalled, an effort to put loft apartments in Clayton’s old town hall is back on track.
The town first put the 90-year old vacant building on the market last year and began soliciting proposals for how to breathe new life into it. One group stepped forward last summer.
CommunitySmith, a downtown Raleigh redevelopment firm, specializes in finding modern uses for older buildings, often bringing them into a new century. The group proposed a $2.4 million renovation of the building, replacing cubicles and offices with 12 loft apartments.
The project might not raise any eyebrows in downtown Raleigh or Durham, where hundreds of people call old tobacco warehouses and other buildings home, but is a first for Clayton, whose downtown is catching on but is still a small town at heart. CommunitySmith director Holton Wilkerson thinks he’ll find a market.
“The vibrancy is impressive for not a huge downtown,” Wilkerson said. “Johnston County has an incredible employment base and that feeds what’s going on downtown. When you have millennials or folks that just like being close to that, we’re catering to those kinds of folks. ...We’re confident there are at least a dozen people that fit that criteria. If it was 100 units, it might be a different story.”
Clayton’s old town hall has been empty for four years and scarcely used before that, since the town moved operations to the Clayton Center a couple of blocks down. In its heyday, the old building truly housed the town, including offices and departments, the police department, the library and a small courtroom.
The closest the building came to continuing in the public sector was a proposal more than a decade ago to turn it into a district courtroom for western Johnston County. Those renovations would have cost between $2.5 million and $2.7 million in 2005, but never gained steam.
Clayton has been trying to redevelop the old town hall for more than a year, but once CommunitySmith expressed an interest, no contract was ever worked out. Last month the town revealed why, saying it feared the surplus building may end up in another party’s hands through an upset bid process. The town said it is looking for a specific kind of renovation for the old town hall, not simply trying to unload it.
To get around that, the Clayton Town Council voted recently to rescind its request for proposals from last year and transfer the property to the Clayton Downtown Development Association, a quasi-governmental group that will negotiate the deal with CommunitySmith. In transferring the building, Clayton is placing deed restrictions on the property limiting what can be done with it.
The bones of the building are in pretty decent shape, but everything else needs updating. We’ll be doing a full modernization: new plumbing, new mechanical, new electrical.
Holton Wilkerson, director of CommunitySouth, a downtown Raleigh redevelopment firm
“It is a historic structure and our goal was to find someone to develop it and come in and maintain it for historic purposes,” Clayton planning director David DeYoung said last month when the proposal was first brought up.
Wilkerson said his group remains interested and that its plans haven’t changed in the nine months since it proposed the apartments. He said the building will still be primarily residential, with a small amount of space available for a business.
The building, though, isn’t exactly a blank canvas simply waiting for apartments 1-12.
“The bones of the building are in pretty decent shape, but everything else needs updating,” Wilkerson said. “We’ll be doing a full modernization: new plumbing, new mechanical, new electrical.”
CommunitySmith has done similar projects in Wilson and Greenville. Its plans for Clayton fit in with a small reuse trend in town. The former North Carolina Paper Company building in Clayton will soon hold a tech company. Also, a cocktail lounge recently pulled off the dry wall and dropped ceilings of an insurance company and started hosting jazz bands and slinging Old Fashioneds.
In working with old buildings instead of starting from scratch, Wilkerson said he’s trying to discover the stories and functions of a building’s life and maybe add a few new stories himself.
“Each one has a story to tell,” Wilkerson said. “Everyone from Clayton has a memory of this building. The challenge is no two buildings are the same. The occupants appreciate that as well, whether it is residential or commercial, the convenience of brand new amenities and the historic integrity.”
So far, one story from the old town hall stands out to him – a bullet hole in one of the windows from an accidental discharge from a police officer some time years ago.
“It’s just something you catch in passing,” Wilkerson said.
Drew Jackson; 919-829-4577; @jdrewjackson