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Imperial Lofts developer hails fruits of partnership with town

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News
Top, Ed Gaskin of Echelon Resources addresses South Boston council. Above, inside Imperial Lofts / May 02, 2019
The transformation of a once-forsaken building in town into upscale apartments is an example of what public and private partners can accomplish together, Imperial Lofts developer Edwin Gaskin told South Boston Town Council on Monday: “We’re doing great stuff together.”

Gaskin, president of Richmond-based Echelon Resources, spoke to Council at its work session on the $6.7 million restoration of the shuttered Tultex plant on Watkins Avenue. The sprawling factory building, erected in the late 1800s and home to textile operations until Tultex went out of business in 2000, has been re-adapted as market-rate apartments, with rental rates starting at $850 per month and rising to $1,010 for double units.

The 45 apartment units at Imperial Lofts are almost entirely rented out, Gaskin told Council: “To say we’re leased or fully leased is not an untrue statement.” He added that there are typically some vacancies at Imperial Lofts, but not for long. “These apartments generate their own momentum.”

Gaskin and Town Manager Tom Raab will make a presentation this summer on the success of the Imperial Lofts project when the Virginia Main Street program meets in Lynchburg, but members of Council got a preview at their monthly work session.

Gaskin went over a number of facets of the project: the challenges of repurposing such a large space as living quarters, the “financial Rubik’s Cube” of making the business model work, and the need to preserve the history of the building with the use of federal and state historic tax credits to finance the project.

The money to build Imperial Lofts came from three major sources: private investment, the historic tax credits and a $3.5 million loan from the South Boston Industrial Development Authority. Given the success of the project right off the bat, “you’ve been making money on every cent you invested,” Gaskin said.

If Echelon had been required to pursue conventional bank financing to carry out the renovations, “that would have forced us to do a lesser project — maybe more storage, a lesser housing project. I knew we needed to do more of a housing project,” Gaskin said.

The result is a living space that has been a hit with young professionals and others — “people who do not want to mow the grass,” said Raab, speaking about Imperial Lofts and similar projects such as Halifax Lofts and the New Brick Exchange Lofts. “They want to come home to their apartments.

“We’re talking about an average [rent] of a thousand dollars a month and people are willing to pay it.”

Gaskin described the touches, historical and otherwise, that went into the Imperial Lofts transformation. One example is the repurposing of the brick from the plant’s old boiler room; after that portion of the plant was dismantled, the brick was used to add pavers around the grounds. Other distinctive features — the interior columns, hardwood floors and expansive windows — were restored to pleasing effect.

With its industrial heritage, and with additions to the structure over the decades, the Tultex plant “ was really an amalgamation of buildings, which presented construction challenges,” Gaskin said.

“It’s worth a lot more than what you invested in it,” Gaskin told Council members. He added, “Any place is either moving forward or moving backward … there’s always that messaging. We want to be a positive.”

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