KEARNEY — Monday is move-in day for the first four tenants at Brigham Lofts, the new downtown low-income apartment building at 2013 Ave. A.
It will be a satisfying day for building owner Walter Martin, who treasures Kearney’s historic buildings.
“It’s a cool, old building,” he said. “I love it. I wanted to save it. When I knew it was available, I didn’t ask whether I could afford it or what it might cost. If I own it, nobody can tear it down, so I bought it. Then I began to make decisions.”
The three-story building, just south of the Buffalo County Law Enforcement Center, has 12 two-bedroom units and two one-bedroom units. Each unit has laundry facilities. There is no elevator.
Brigham Lofts is the latest resurrection of a 98-year-old building that has been the home of the Kearney Area Children’s Museum, the Wholesale Grocer and Meat Locker, the Brigham Co. Wholesale Grocer, the Kearney Locker & Cold Storage and many others.
The name of another former owner, the Kearney Grocery Co., appeared on its southern side, as does “Home of Brigham Company. Wholesale Groceries.” It was first known as the Brigham Building in 1922.
This week, a painter was touching up those signs in preparation for Monday’s opening.
It’s the third historic structure in Kearney to be refurbished by Martin, who turned an old movie theater into his Fort Theater Dentistry at 2205 Central Ave., and created a home inside the First Baptist Church, built in 1887 at West 23rd Street and Fourth Avenue. President Harry Truman attended services there.
Martin also helped with the four-year restoration of the World Theatre at 2318 Central Ave.
“I am very passionate about preserving downtown history and architecture,” he said. “I renovated the structure with the desire to save the building, keeping the exterior as historically significant as possible.”
At first, it didn’t look promising. The Brigham Lofts building was condemned when Martin bought it. The previous owner had spent $300,000 on making it structurally sound, but then quit and returned it to the bank.
At that point, Brett Weiss of Kearney, a friend of Martin’s, suggested that Martin buy it. After researching the structure, Martin did.
He and Weiss formed Brigham Lofts LLC in hopes of renovating it into an apartment building, but they soon learned that renovations could cost $1.5 million and be “prohibitively expensive.”
“Then, by some miracle of God, (Assistant City Manager) Suzanne (Brodine) called and said the state had received a $5 million CDBG grant, and we should apply for some of that money,” Martin said.
He had just one week to do the paperwork. The grant application was officially filed by the city and Miller & Associates Consulting Engineers at 1111 Central Ave.
In 2011, the city received a grant of slightly more than $1 million. After administrative costs, Weiss and Martin were given $977,000 to pour into the building. They created 14 suites on three floors.Their company has spent between $300,000 to $500,000 more on the project, but Martin said Friday he had no final figure because bills are still being paid.
As of Friday, four tenants had signed leases and four more have been approved. Eight more people have applied, according to Eric Hellriegel, the housing administrator for Miller & Associates, who is handling Brigham Lofts leases, but with just 14 units, not all applicants will be accepted.
One-bedroom units rent for $493, including utilities, but tenants must meet income guidelines. For example, two tenants sharing a unit can earn, together, a maximum of $61,320 to be considered for a suite.
Hellriegel said rents could change each year because they are based on federal guidelines.
The only inconvenience for tenants could be parking, Martin said. On-street and off-street parking is time-limited near the building.
Martin is proud of his effort to save another historic Kearney structure.
“The demolition of historically significant buildings and landmarks has become commonplace, with a constant erosion of our downtown over the last 50 years,” he said. “This one has been saved. What’s next?”