United Center renovation moves along
By Dave Dreeszen Journal business editor
SIOUX CITY -- Alex Carter, who enjoys going to movies, looks forward to living next door to a 14-screen cineplex.
Carter recently purchased a condominium in the United Center, a massive brick structure just west of the Promenade Theater in downtown Sioux City. A multi-million dollar restoration project is turning the century-old, former warehouse into modern offices and residences.
The top two floors of the six-story building have been subdivided into 24 residential condo units, starting at about $99,950 for nearly 1,000 square feet. To increase their living quarters, buyers have the option of buying adjacent units, either sideways or upwards into the floor above.
Carter, 23, opted for the latter, picking out a loft-style condo with a stairway connecting the two levels. From one floor to the other, the ceiling measures 22 feet tall.
The turnkey unit features a host of amenities, original exposed brick and lumber and large windows facing west. "I have a really nice view of the river and downtown,'' she said.
Contractors are in the midst of finishing the space. Carter hopes to move in as early as next February or March.
She's among nine people who have agreed to buy units in downtown's first residential condo project.
"We've got a lot of other people who are interested, but they want to see more of the finished product before they sign up,'' said Kevin Archer, a United Real Estate Solutions agent who has been showing the building to prospective tenants.
Those who put down deposits range from "single professionals in their early 20s to a 70-year-old retired priest,'' Archer said.
Roger Caudron, executive director of Downtown Partners, said he expects many more to follow their lead. In recent years, downtown condos -- many like the United Center, carved out of large historic buildings -- have been sprouting up in larger metro areas, including tri-state cities such as Des Moines and Omaha.
"There's a changing attitude across the country about people wanting to come downtown to have a more urban lifestyle, as opposed to a suburban lifestyle,'' Caudron said. "That's finally coming to Sioux City.''
At one time, another century-old warehouse, the Battery building at Fourth and Water streets, was on track to be home to the first condo units in downtown Sioux City. But the start of construction of that multi-million dollar project, known as the Clocktower on Water Street, has been delayed due to some issues the developers are working through.
The United Center, formerly the Pierce Moving & Storing warehouse, had fallen into disrepair when Bart Connelly, a local contractor who specializes in historic restorations, purchased it from the city in late 2006. The city originally acquired the building for the Promenade complex's California-based developer, which had hoped to turn it into a luxury hotel, but later backed out.
After United Real Estate Solutions, the metro area's largest residential estate firm, purchased the entire first floor, the Pierce warehouse was renamed the United Center.
After repairing a leaky roof, Connelly's crews gutted the interior, and installed all new electrical, plumbing, mechanical systems, as well as some as some water damaged wood. The exposed bricks and original timbers, which had turned a whitish color over times, were thoroughly cleaned.
"It really freshened it up,'' Archer said Wednesday as he led a Journal reporter and photographer on a tour of the building. The sound of construction roared all around, as hard hat-wearing workers busied themselves with framing and other tasks.
New front door
All the building's old windows are being replaced with new energy-efficient models. Last week, workers were framing new windows on the west side of the building, which was windowless when Connelly acquired it. Bricks were painstakingly knocked out to create window openings and views for future occupants on that side of the building.
When finished, the west side will become the United Center's front entrance. The design, which will be historically accurate as possible, will feature a large arched door, leading into a two-story atrium with three-quarter inch glass.
The north half of the first floor will house United's residential offices, and the company's commercial real estate and escrow divisions also will move to the floor.
The company plans to sublease unneeded space in the southwest corner, said Chris Bogenrief, president of United Commercial. A number of prospective tenants already have expressed interest, he said.
Cannon Moss Brygger & Associates plans to move its Sioux City offices to the north half of the second and third floors. The architect firm's space opens up into a large atrium, surrounded by office space on each level.
A financial services firm, Amerprise, also has purchased second floor space. A total of about 6,000 square feet of commercial space currently is available on both the second and third floors, Bogenrief said.
The fourth floor, which has about 10,000 square feet of useable space, will be developed as either commercial or residential use. That will largely depend on how well the condo sales continue to go, he said.
Single condo units run $108 per square foot. That built-out price includes appliances and such amenities as granite countertops, Archer said. A discounted rate of $54 per square foot is available for additional, adjacent units purchased.
Each tenant gets a parking spot in a 75-space underground ramp just west of the building that was constructed over the past winter. There is now surface parking on top of the ramp, which stretches from the west side of the building to Jones Street.
The parking project is nearing completion. As soon as that occurs, Connelly can move in to finish restoration work of the building's west side. If everything goes according to schedule, United hopes to move into its new first-floor offices by the end of the year, Bogenrief said.
From the underground parking, which will have heat and security cameras, or the main entrance, condo units can enter an elevator that takes them to their loft.
As a young single, the security of the United Center appealed to Carter. So did the close proximity to not only the Promenade Theater, but also such entertainment venues as the Historic Fourth Street District and the Art Center.
More to come
While a number of apartments have been built downtown in recent years, local leaders say there is a demand for condos, which offer the pride of ownership, but also less maintenance and work than a house and yard.
Caudron credits Connelly for taking the risk in being the first to develop downtown condos. If the project proves successful, Caudron predicts it will spur the development of more such units.
"I think this is just actually the tip of iceberg of what's going to happen,'' he said.
More downtown workers, he added, could save gas and the hassle of traffic by living closer to their place of employment. Among those interested in the condos, he said, are some newly-arrived workers at the Northwest Airlines reservations call center, located in the former JCPenney building, just two blocks away from the United Center. The workers, who recently transferred from Northwest's now-closed center in the Baltimore area, are more used to living in a more urban environment, he said.
Carter's new condo is not far from her job at Hawkeye Adjustment, 2300 Pierce St., where she is an administrative assistant. But that's far from the biggest advantage of her soon-to-be new home. Unlike her current apartment, the United Center condos allow pets.
"The whole reason I'm moving in the first place is because I wanted a dog,'' she said.