City Council supports plan to convert old Chapel Street school into apartments

Flint Hills Holding Company plans to convert the former school on Chapel Street into 30 apartments. Enlarge photo

February 3, 2015

The Baldwin City Council voted unanimously Monday to support a plan to redevelop the former junior high school on Chapel Street into 30 apartments.

Flint Hills Holdings Group LLC asked the city to support the plan as it prepares application for historical preservation tax credits from the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation. The deadline for applications for the tax credits is Friday.

The Baldwin school board agree to sell the school to Kansas City-area developer Tony Krsnich and his Flint Hills Holding Group in September 2013 for $90,000. Krsnich said at that time he planned to convert the old school into apartments and a business incubator, in which small or start-up businesses could rent small offices that shared a meeting room and basic office equipment.

The company specializes in renovating buildings through the use of historical preservation and affordable housing tax credits, Flint Hills Holding Company Vice President Tom Larkin told the council Monday. The plan is to use tax credits to help finance the $5.2 million redevelopment of the Chapel Street school.

The business incubator is no longer part of the renovation plans for the building that Larkin shared Monday with the council. The plan now was to build 30 apartments in the old school with 20 of them having one bedroom, 10 having two bedrooms and an on-site office, Larkin said.

That was a slight discrepancy from floor plans shared with the city that called for 20 one-bedroom units, eight two bedroom units, two three bedroom units and the office. Larkin said it was still Flint Hills Holding Group’s goal to include two or three three-bedroom units but that was proving difficult with the requirement that would come with the tax credits to provide ADA accessible apartments.

The use of tax credits also requires a percentage of the apartments be designated “affordable.” Larkin said 75 percent of the old school’s apartments would be designated affordable and the remaining would be rented at market rates.

Affordable-rate housing was frequently confused with section 8 low-income housing in which rent vouchers are provided the tenant, Larkin said. With affordable housing, developers agree to keep rental rates lower than market rates in exchange for the tax credits that offset construction costs.

Larkin said low-income tenants in Baldwin City could include Baker University graduate students, young professionals and those just starting their own businesses.

The company would again partner with Rau Construction on the Baldwin City project, Larkin said. The team has worked together on a number of award-winning redevelopment projects, including the Poelher Lofts and Cider Gallery in east Lawrence.

The partners would bring the same quality that went into that project to Baldwin City, Larkin said. The apartments, both affordable and market, would have hardwood floors, granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances.

Larkin said tax credit decisions where usually made in the “late spring” and that construction on the project could start in the summer. It was not as difficult as some of the other projects the company has undertaken and could be completed in six to eight months, he estimated.

Flint Hills Holding Company’s plans for apartments across the street from Baker University to draw comment from Andy Jett, the school’s vice president of strategic planning and academic resources. The university supported development and growth in Baldwin City, he said, but did traditionally warm that the school could not police sometimes “rowdy” undergraduate students who lived off-campus in non-university housing, he said.

At the present time, there are no plans for the neighboring, and now unused, South Gym, which came with Krsnich’s purchase of the old school, parking lot and grounds, Larkin said. The company had explored renovating that into a fitness facility for Baker University students, but that plan fell through, he said. Flint Hills Holding Company continues to look at possible uses, including a fitness center, business incubator and event center, he said.

The council's vote was only to support the company's application for tax credits, said Collin Bielser, city community development director. The company still needed to rezone the property for multi-family residential and have submit a development plan for approval.

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