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History has a home where golden leaf was once sold

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News
Virginia Hughes after touring the New Brick Historic Lofts. Her father worked at the old tobacco warehouse for many years. Top, one of the units soon to be for rent. / December 09, 2013
For South Boston resident Virginia Hughes, touring the New Brick Historic Lofts on Saturday brought back fond memories of her father, John Hughes.

“This was his home,” said Hughes, referring to the many years that John Hughes worked the floor at the old New Brick Tobacco Warehouse, owned and operated for generations by T.P. Nelson and family. Hughes was employed much of his life at New Brick, weighing tobacco and keeping the warehouse floor humming until he retired in 1988.

Taking stock of the sturdy old brick building, now repurposed as high-end apartments, Hughes declared herself impressed: “The apartments are wonderful. They’re beautiful. I need to put my house on the market,” she said with a laugh.

It’s exactly the kind of reaction that the developers — Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Rehab Development — are looking for.

Curious residents and perhaps a rental prospect or two streamed into the New Brick Historic Lofts for tours Saturday afternoon prior to the South Boston Christmas Parade. There, they were greeted by Rehab Development company officials who were eager to highlight some of the special touches that have gone into the restoration of the building, which will offer 27 apartments for rent starting sometime around mid-January.

Gabe Lipsky, assistant superintendent of the project, greeted people at the top of the steps as visitors spilled out in a line to the street. Below, he pointed to the cobblestone walk that rims the perimeter of the building. The stone, unearthed during construction of the lofts, once formed the street that ran in front of the New Brick Warehouse in the heyday of South Boston’s tobacco market era.

Rehab Development was eager to repurpose this historic material, even if it meant going through the painstaking process of setting the stone, cleaning it, compacting it, re-cleaning, and repeating the cycle until the decorative walk can be fully set.

“That stone is easily over 100 years old,” said Lipsky.

The careful use of existing building materials is evident in the interior space, too. Partially-rotted floor joists that were pulled up still contained useful wood that Rehab Development has used to build staircases and bar-tops. Tobacco bailing carts left inside the building have been taken apart and the materials used to build coffee tables in community areas. The building is replete with rough-hewn thick wood slabs, both to support the walls and adorn the furnishings. “We like to reclaim lots of stuff,” said Lipsky.

Patrick Reilly, a principal with Rehab Development, pointed to another feature that lends the building a special character: the skylights that, back in the day, contributed to New Brick Warehouse’s reputation for selling some of the brightest and best quality tobacco on the market. The first time he laid eyes on the vacant warehouse, Reilly said, the skylights jumped out: “That was one of the natural attractions to this building,” he said.

The importance of the skylights goes beyond simply the appeal of sunlight streaming into the lofts’ cavernous community spaces. Without this ready-made source of light, it’s unlikely that the New Brick Warehouse could have been profitably converted into apartments. “The fact this building had so many skylights in it really lent itself to making this building a developable project,” said Reilly.

Rent will start at $635 a month for a one-bedroom loft — there are 13 one-bedroom units, 14 with two bedrooms — and increase with the larger units. Reilly said interest from potential renters has been strong, with some prospects already sending in their deposits. Rehab Development will begin to formally lease the apartments sometime next month.

Reilly praised the state of Virginia and the Town of South Boston for helping to make the warehouse revival possible. Virginia offers historic tax credits good for up to 25 percent of qualified rehab expenses, which Reilly said one is one of the most generous state programs of its kind in the U.S. (Federal historic tax credits can be used to offset another 40 percent of qualified expenses.) Separately, the Town extended a 20-year, no-interest $185,000 loan to Rehab Development on the condition that it would make a minimum $2.5 million capital investment in the building.

On Saturday, the fruits of the private-public partnership were on full display, impressing many of the visitors who set foot in the old warehouse for the first time in many years.

“The first day I saw this building,” said Reilly, “I was like, ‘man, we’ve got something. It’s an amazing project.”

On the web: and also http://www.newbrick

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