WATERTOWN — Brianna Pisani knew that she wanted to move her business into the Lincoln Building as soon as she stepped into the historic landmark.
She knew right away that a part of the second floor was the perfect location for The Lincoln Loft, a business that will be a mixture of photo shoot studio, space for like-minded entrepreneurs to share and some place for pop-up weddings and special events.
“I just loved it,” she said while taking a tour last week of the rest of the soon-to-be renovated Lincoln Building.
She and her husband, Christopher — who own Pretty Little Vintage Co. in Adams — hope that the 4,300 square feet of space will be ready to open in February.
The business is one of two new major tenants making the Lincoln Building their home, with Foy Benefits moving in on Jan. 1.
The Lincoln Building was the recipient of $825,000 in Downtown Revitalization Initiative money, which is being used to convert new office space in the five-story structure at 89-99 Public Square.
Saying it will be done this winter, co-owner Brian Murray predicts his project will be the first one finished under the city’s $10 million DRI program.
“There’s a lot of energy converging together,” he said.
As for the Lincoln Building itself, Foy Benefits, an employee benefits firm that’s now in the Barton and Loguidice building at 120 Washington St., will become the first major tenant to be moving there.
The company should be in its new offices on the fourth floor by Jan. 1, said company CEO Eric Sharlow.
“I’ve always loved that building and that project,” he said.
Coming over with a staff of 10, Foy Benefits will occupy the back half of the fourth floor in offices that features hardwood floors, exposed brick and lots of glass.
They’ll also have splendid views of the Black River, Mr. Sharlow said.
He and his team worked with Mr. Murray and building co-owner
Purcell Construction on designing the floor plans for the offices.
“We wanted a good working environment for the staff,” he said.
Foy Benefits will join a mortgage company and a photographer that have already moved into smaller offices on the second floor.
And more tenants are on the way. The owner is talking to a half-dozen other prospective tenants, Mr. Murray said.
Jessica A. Renzi, marketing manager for Washington Street Properties, said about half of the building is now occupied, including the four storefronts on the first floor.
With about $5 million already spent, Mr. Murray is investing another $1.8 million on the current phase of the Lincoln Building project.
Some of the space will be transformed into a “Co-Working Innovation Center,” where entrepreneurs and artists can share space, offices, a conference room, studio and kitchenette.
The Lincoln Loft is a good addition to the landmark and for downtown, Mr. Murray said.
“It’ll be a good complement to what we’re doing,” he said.
Last week, the second through fourth floors were a beehive of activity.
Construction crews were working on getting a new elevator shaft in place, putting finish on hardwood floors in some offices and installing drywall in others.
Mr. Murray is still looking for an anchor tenant for the third floor. There are no current plans for the fifth floor.
While the Lincoln Building may be the first DRI completed, creating five market-rate apartments in the historic Paddock Arcade will probably be the second.
The units should be completed in the spring, said Donald G.M. Coon III, managing partner in 200 Washington St. Associates, which owns the Paddock.
“We’re making progress,” he said.
Besides the five apartments, the Paddock also is receiving $435,000 to make improvements inside the common areas of the building. That work is slated to start next year.
Several other DRI projects are under contract with the state Department of State, which oversees the DRI program.
“We knew it was going to be a slow go,” Mayor Joseph M. Butler Jr. said, adding that work on several projects will soon be picking up.
“You’re going to see a lot of things taking shape in the next year,” he said.
The owners of the Masonic Temple and the state are finalizing details on work associated with turning the Washington Street landmark into a performing arts center. They received $2.2 million from the DRI program.
The Jefferson County Historical Society will use its $506,000 in DRI money as part of its $1.2 million project to replace the museum’s roof and improve programs. That work is expected to be done in September 2020.
The Watertown Local Development Corp. plans to spend $300,000 next spring to make facade improvements on several downtown buildings.
But Mayor Butler confirmed that a project that Jefferson Community College wants to complete is in flux.
JCC obtained $2.5 million from the DRI funding to create a downtown center to support entrepreneurs and offer workforce training. Three years ago, the college also was awarded a nearly $4 million grant through the state’s SUNY 2020 program for the tech center.
So far, the college has not secured a location.
College President Ty Stone said in a statement that the college wants to make certain it’s approaching the project in a responsible manner.
“The first priority is to continue to do our due diligence in planning not only a location, but also operations we are confident that we can sustain,” she said.
But Mayor Butler said that the college is concerned about
having funding in place for operating costs after it opens. The issue is holding up the project, he said.
The DRI funding is also providing funding for a series of public projects, including $1.5 million for streetscape improvements that will make downtown more walkable along Franklin, Court and Coffeen streets.
But the public portion of the DRI project won’t be completed until a year later, city officials said.