AUBURN — The breath from Grant Kyle's mouth was visible as he stood inside the Nolan Block on Friday morning.
"In the summertime, people are so booked. Now it's winter, and we can get anyone we want," he said with a laugh.
Indeed, Kyle was surrounded on all sides by contractors hard at work inside the downtown Auburn buildings. Comprised of 41, 43-51 and 53 Genesee St., the block has rounded a significant corner in its renovation, said Kyle, who bought the buildings with his family through KyleCroft Development in July 2016. Sheetrocking will begin within days. After that, the renovation will be about three months away from completion, Kyle said. The buildings — which take their name from the Nolan's Shoes store located there until 2004 — will house five storefronts and 14 apartments.
Still, the Nolan Block is six months behind where Kyle wanted to be. That's because KyleCroft decided to not only renovate the three buildings as comprehensively as they could, but also restructure them into one. For instance, each building had its own stairway, Kyle said. But now, the three buildings share one, as well as a central elevator that contributed to the delay. In addition, the roof has been rebuilt with new skylights, the floors have been leveled and replaced, and new windows, sprinklers and heating, electrical and Verizon Fios systems have been installed.
"All the hard work in this building has been infrastructure," said Kyle, who also owns the neighboring concrete bank building at 63 Genesee St., The Lofts at Brister Mills apartments on North Street and several other area properties through KyleCroft. "We took it multiple steps further than we were gonna go. We decided we didn't want to have to do anything later on."
The apartments range from 700 to 1,300 square feet. Eight are two-bedroom, and six are one-bedroom. But the process of renovating and restructuring the building has resulted on only two of those apartments being identical, Kyle said. Each floor plan is different due to the shifting fire escape, he explained, and the basement had to be excavated to create enough clearance for three apartments there. So some apartments have private decks, for instance, and some have lofts and soaring ceilings that used to belong to the attic. But all have ample space, Kyle believes, as well as amenities like thermostats in every bedroom and spray foam insulation to soundproof shared walls. The block's long, thin layout also allowed KyleCroft to place windows in almost every bedroom.
With a key fob, tenants will be able to enter the building and access the elevator from either Genesee Street or Loop Road. Interest in the apartments is high, Kyle said, and he believes parking is one reason why. There are 38 spaces on the Loop Road side of the block, and because Wegmans sits opposite on Genesee, the street spaces there aren't heavily used, Kyle continued.
Kyle said the parking situation also attracted one of Nolan Block's commercial tenants, Octane Social House. Rob and Joni Otterstatter have already begun building out their business, which will include coffee, self-serve beer, live music, cooking lessons and more on its two floors. Another storefront will be occupied by Kelly Services, the workforce management company now at 15 Dill St.
Kyle said he has potential tenants looking at the other three storefronts, whose square footage ranges from 630 to 1,340 feet. KyleCroft has replaced their stone facades with new wooden frames, cornices and windows, and will install fluted columns to link them at a later date. The block also advertises itself with a new vertical sign installed last year by Auburn business Sign Dept.
The block's old stone facades are one example of the history of problems that the developer tried to fix, Kyle said. The oldest building on the block, 53 Genesee St., was built around 1846.
"The original was built well, and then every renovation since screwed it up worse and worse," he said.
The budget for the block's renovation is $2.1 million, which Kyle anticipates going over "but within reason." He noted that KyleCroft has not received any state grants or other financial assistance, nor is the block part of Auburn's $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative plan. The developer is only receiving $122,000 in tax relief from the Auburn Industrial Development Authority.
"I think that's a good sign of how healthy Auburn's becoming, that you can do it without free money," he said. "The goal is to get us on our feet and get people living downtown."