JEFFERSON — The past became present Saturday morning when Jefferson celebrated the grand openings of two renovated downtown historic buildings overlooking the Rock River.

  1. Ribbons were cut on the Riverside Lofts, affordable housing located in the former Schweiger furniture building on West Candise Street, and Stable Rock Winery & Distillery, about four blocks south in what originally was Boll’s Livery during the 1800s (watch for story in Wednesday’s paper).

Carrying a price tag of $10.5 million, Riverside Lofts is a 36-unit complex with an industrial design offering one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments; underground parking; and incubator studio for area artists and makers to gather and work on their creations.

Project developer Ted Matkom, the Wisconsin market president for Gorman & Company, outlined how Riverside Lofts came about and the various hurdles it had to jump before finally becoming a reality.

“This $10 million, 36-unit adaptive reuse of a former historic factory has been over three years in the making,” he told the masked and socially distanced attendees outside the front entryway.

He recalled receiving a call from Jefferson City Administrator Tim Freitag “right out the blue,” asking him to take a look at this land for new construction development on the river.

“I have to say, I was extremely impressed with Tim’s over-the-top enthusiasm, which I think he still has, and his passion for doing something in downtown,” Matkom said. “That really meant something for Jefferson.”

They looked at the possibilities of razing or reusing the building, which most recently housed Foremost Buildings Inc. before it moved to the North Industrial Park.

“So Tim and I kind of analyzed it both ways …,” Matkom said. “And we both decided to try to preserve history.”

The city for National Register of Historic Places designation through the National Park Service. This enabled using historic tax credits to help pay for the building improvements.

The building originally was built in 1916 by Schweiger, once the largest employer in Jefferson County, and used until about 1980. Foremost then bought and used it until moving to its new facility.

The building most recently was owned by Jim Jossart of Waukesha, whom Matkom called a “very flexible and very patient man.”

They signed the purchase agreement expecting the closing to take about a year in light of having to undergo the competitive process of affordable housing tax credits through the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA).

“We got the WHEDA credits. Here we go. And Jim was all excited, and we thought, ‘Hey, we’re right on track for this whole thing,’” Matkom said.

But it took six months to get the tax credits and then another. They designed the interior apartments, got the historic approvals and landed Associated Bank as the buyer for both the WHEDA affordable housing and historic tax credits, as well as the lender of a construction loan.

“So we’re getting ready to close and finish all our plans and go out to bid. All the pricing comes back. Oops. We’re 10 percent over budget,” Matkom recalled. “What happened is about three years ago, construction prices just skyrocketed. And in about 15 months, our cost went up about 10 percent. So we had a financing gap and now we couldn’t close.”

Jossart extended the closing six months and Freitag contacted Jason Scott, regional economic development director of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

Upon hearing that the developer was targeting artists to live at Riverside Lofts to complement the downtown, Scott suggested putting a space in the building for residents and outside artists to expand and build their arts businesses.

“So that’s what we did. We created this amazing space where the public can reserve it through our property management and in exchange for this, WEDC gave us our gap financing,” Matkom said.

He again called Jossart to say the closing was back on. But shortly thereafter it wasn’t because the building permit was held up due to a small sliver of the property being within the floodplain.

Following the flood of 2008, the City of Jefferson received money from FEMA, and in turn promised that no more properties would be built in the floodplain. The process of removing the property from the floodplain is lengthy, and the developers had to work with the federal government.

Again, Jossart extended the purchase agreement six months as a levee wall was built to fend off the Rock River.

“And you can see its silver lining is that we have a public path on there that can access the river,” Matkom said, noting that the city will be connecting a boardwalk north to a planned park/residential/commercial zone on the east bank of the Rock River. “It’s actually a beautiful path for bikes and walking. … It’s really cool, very industrial and kind of looks exactly like the building, like it was always there, and it does protect this for now.”

And they finally closed the deal.

“And so thank you, Jim, so much for all your patience. And we finally got it done,” Matcom concluded.

Also speaking at the ribbon-cutting was Joaquin Altoro, WHEDA’s chief executive officer.

“There’s a sincere appreciation for the story that Ted just told us,” he said. “And I hope we try to really understand that it is no easy feat to do what we’re seeing here today. I think it’s important that we have a deeper appreciation — when we walk through the halls or we walk around the building, and even when we walk around the neighborhood — to understand the kind of impact that it has.”

He noted that just before the ceremony, he met a neighborhood resident who mentioned that his father worked in this building in the 1940s, making products for the war effort.

“I could imagine the emotion that he had as he walked through this building and saw how we repurposed it for today,” Altoro said. “And repurposing is really thinking about how do we provide affordable and safe housing going forward?”

The WHEDA CEO noted that Riverside Lofts has played a critical role in the city’s redevelopment of its downtown riverfront, and WHEDA is grateful to have been a partner in the effort.

“We are just pleased to have provided nearly half-a-million dollars in federal capital magnet funds and an allocation of housing tax credits, which resulted in equity totaling nearly $5.5 million,” Altoro said.

He emphasized that WHEDA works hard at changing the narrative of what affordable housing is.

“Some folks might think that when we build these buildings, sometimes they’re only one bedrooms or efficiencies, but we understand that the beautiful City of Jefferson is a community of families,” Altoro said. “And when you have two and three bedrooms, that’s saying that ‘we accept you with open arms.’

“This is great news, he continued. “As we consistently hear throughout the state, there is great need for more affordable workforce housing. … The complexity of developments like this one requires patience and skills.”

Repurposing a former industrial site to provide critical, affordable and safe housing, and to connect people and workers to downtown Jefferson, is important, Altoro said.

“This holistic approach to redevelopment is essential to support the economic vitality of the Main Streets, he said, congratulating all the partners in the project. “… We do appreciate your work to deliver real solutions that address our critical housing needs throughout the state.”

He added that there are a lot of great things happening downtown, and “to respect our citizens and provide them affordable housing near things that are happening is exciting, and WHEDA is very excited to be a part of this process.”

Echoing that appreciation to all the partners was Mayor Dale Oppermann.

“As you heard, there were a number of partners in this. We certainly want to thank Sen. (Scott) Fitzgerald, Sen. (Steve) Nass and Rep. (Cody) Horlacher for not only coming out here today to be here for the fun part, but being there behind the scenes for us whenever we needed assistance or advice and support from the State of Wisconsin,” Oppermann said. “So thank you all very much for being a good partner of Jefferson over the years.”

He noted that City Administrator Tim Freitag was the point man in this effort, and thanked all city officials and council members for all their work.

“I’d just like to say that today, an important part of Jefferson’s past becomes an even more important part of Jefferson’s future,” the mayor said. “This building has served our community over the years, provided family-sustaining jobs and products that have helped everything from the war effort to decorating people’s living rooms.

“The heart of downtown Jefferson will help promote economic vitality in our community and first-class housing for a 21st-century workforce,” Oppermann added. “Thank you to everyone who’s been a partner in this and thank you for coming out to celebrate with us today.”

After the ribbon-cutting, Sen. Fitzgerald reiterated how the Riverside Lofts is an example of many entities working together, including WHEDA and WEDC on the state level.

Sen. Nass agreed.

“The transition Jefferson has seen is awesome,” he said. “This is just another transition, a very positive one, very historic, and going forward, I’m sure there will be more. And it’s good to see this come to pass with the challenges that were laid in front of it.

“And it got done through perseverance and the health of the local officials, and they were great to work with,” Nass added.

Rep. Horlacher said it was great to back in Jefferson for another ribbon-cutting.

“I know that Mayor Dale and the locals here on the ground have worked across agencies to try and not only make this happen, but to revitalize everything that Jefferson has to offer,” he said. “It’s really cool to see that the historic tax credits are coming home here to Jefferson. It’s one of the things that I know Sen. Nass has certainly been supportive of: making sure that the locals have the resources they need in order to do projects like this.”

He said that historic tax credits don’t become real until events like today’s.

“And when you see this and see the impacts that it has to families, that’s why we do what we do in Madison,” Horlacher added.

City Administrator Freitag also commented on the two Saturday morning ribbon-cuttings and what they mean to Jefferson.

“I think that the city was very fortunate we were able to preserve two pretty historic buildings in the community,” he said. “The winery probably is in one of the top 10 historic buildings in the community, being the old livery for the Jefferson House hotel. Both projects are on the National Register of Historic Places and both were in very poor condition.

“I think the winery and the repurposing of the Foremost building into apartments really saved both from the wrecking ball,” Freitag continued. “And so we’re really happy and both meet really nice needs for the community. The winery will be very popular, with be a tourism generator, I’m sure, and the city is so short of housing that to be able to create 36 units on the river with underground parking is a pretty rare opportunity. It’s pretty special.”

Jen Pinnow, director of the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, echoed those sentiments.

“It’s amazing to be able to save a building and restore it to something even bigger than its original glory, and to have it available for affordable housing is just phenomenal,” she said. “The outside has a ‘wow’ factor, but the inside has an even bigger ‘wow’ factor. I didn’t think that was even possible. It’s gorgeous, its wonderful to have this in Jefferson.”

As an example of the size and rent of the units, a three-bedroom, two-bath apartment measuring 1,473 square feet would rent for $850-$875 a month, while a 1,067-square-foot two-bedroom, one-bath unit would rent for $810 per month.

Pinnow noted that affordable housing definitely is needed in Jefferson, and the riverwalk alongside Riverside Lofts and the future boardwalk will be wonderful additions to the downtown.

Turning to Stable Rock Winery and Distillery, Pinnow said she was thrilled that Rob Lewis chose to open a business in Jefferson.

“They’ve been hopping since the day they opened.” she said.”The deck is always full and the inside is always full, and I love how Rob has encapsulated the history of the building and highlighted that and the German heritage of our community, too. He’s highlighted that with a modern twist. It’s amazing.”

Watch for a feature story on Stable Rock Winery and Distillery in Wednesday’s Daily Union.

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