Owners like proposal for former factory buildings

Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — The proposed master plan for Jasper’s downtown and riverfront calls for taking former factory buildings that are not being fully used and giving them a new life as other developments.

Owners of the buildings singled out in the plan think the ideas are great, as long as the financing and community support for the developments is obtained.

Consultants CityVisions of Louisville and Gamble and Associates of Boston proposed new uses for the Hoosier Desk, Veneer Mill and Jasper Cabinet buildings and provided sketches of their ideas, which include restaurants and loft apartments.

“I think their ideas are right on target,” said Ken Sternberg, co-owner of the Hoosier Desk and Veneer buildings. “With our two buildings, those are definite possibilities. We have been looking at doing similar things. But now, with a definite plan, they have a much better potential for development.”

The Hoosier Desk building sits along Mill Street near Third Avenue. Brothers Paul and Ken Sternberg bought the building 25 years ago and rent space to nine companies. “But a lot of usable space is not filled,” Sternberg said. The plans propose that the building could contain loft apartments, restaurants, a studio, a museum and meeting rooms.

Sternberg and his wife, Marsha, have owned the Veneer Mill building for at least the last 10 years, and businesses rent space in the building. “It’s pretty well full, except for second story,” Sternberg said. The building, which sits along the river at the east end of Sixth Street, could incorporate a restaurant, loft apartments and event space, according to the proposal.

“We’ve had ideas for plans for years,” Sternberg said of the two buildings. “We’ve talked to developers for ideas, but no one has gotten really serious. It does take a lot of money. But it could happen, with the economy continuing to improve.”

The owners would need to have a developer, Sternberg said. “It would be big project. We don’t have the capability to do it ourselves,” he said. “It would take a developer who has done something like this to take this on. We’re open to that idea.”

Jerry Fuhs, owner of the Jasper Cabinet building at 129 Jackson St., said the proposal would be a good match for his building and the community. The plan proposes that part of the building be removed and the vacant space could hold a courtyard for a hotel that could be in the building.

“The advantage of that type of development is that you’d have people living and staying there in the downtown area,” Fuhs said. “To create a community feeling, you need people. It’s about folks staying and spending the night there, spending time there. It is a substantial asset to the community.”

Fuhs would love it if the building was developed and used again, no matter if it is developed by him or by another group, he said. “If there is a developer or interested party that would want to take on that project, we would be glad to work with them to do that,” Fuhs said. “Our goal is to see that building get done. We don’t necessarily have to be the people to get it done.”

More work would have to be done before a plan like that could go into implementation, he said.

“A good assessment would need to be done to determine the viability of such an approach. You need a study to be done to validate if the support would be there for such a development,” he said. “Some of those pieces have been done in the (proposed plan).”

Also, he said, the cost to complete the development must be determined. “We don’t have that yet, but we know that it would be substantial. It is a large building,” Fuhs said. “But that is not necessarily a stopping block, if you have evidence that it would be supported economically. Investors look at these things to see what the return is on this. Lenders want to know that the project is viable enough that they will get their investment back.”

The two studies — to determine the projects’ viability and cost — would almost have to work hand in hand, he said. “I suspect that over the next 12 months, some of that work will be far along,” he said.
Both owners said they would be cooperative in developing their buildings in the manner similar to what is laid out in the proposed plan.

“We want things to go though,” Sternberg said. “The buildings are in great condition. (The developments) would be perfect for downtown.”

The Jasper Plan Commission in November recommended to the city council that the proposal be added to the city’s comprehensive plan. The council will consider that at its meeting this week, set for 7 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall, 610 Main St.

The plan can be viewed on the city’s website, www.jasperindiana.gov, in the “Document Center” under the “Online Services” tab. It is titled “Downtown + Riverfront Master Plan December 2013.”

Contact Candy Neal

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