Midtown Lofts near completion
June 26, 2017
The completion of Midtown Lofts at Sinclair and Stewart streets in July will bring a welcome sigh of relief for developer Blake Smith, president of S3 Development Company.
S3 Development purchased two 1940s-era buildings and a vacant field at the site a few years ago with the goal of adding modern housing in the Midtown area that would appeal to Millennials and other young professionals. The half-acre site now houses 11 single-family homes. In addition to renovating the existing two buildings, S3 Development erected nine new structures.
"That is dense — but if you look at architecture and the layouts, we designed that product for what the market is looking for," Smith said. "They are low-maintenance, highly stylish, and the location is A-plus. People can walk to work, to entertainment.
"That product is designed to satisfy that need in the Midtown area," Smith added. "It is dense, but it is really open due to smart architecture and layout. The interior design opened up a lot of stuff, such as openings between the second and third floor, and there are rooftop decks with views of the Sierra for entertaining. They also have small yards — you have a place to get out but don't have to spend a lot of time maintaining it."
Mike McGonagle of Mac Associates was the architect on the project, which was built by Troy and Travis Means of Homecrafters.
Developers often liken urban redevelopment projects to peeling an onion — you just don't know what's really inside until you start digging in. In this case, there were three or four big challenges that had to be overcome to bring the project to fruition.
When workmen began removing earth to tie into the City of Reno sewage system, they found that the existing waste pipeline was a 1920s-era clay pipe and not a steel pipe. That was a major setback and financial blow.
"You cannot connect to clay, so we had to rip out half of a street block and replace the pipe to tap into it," Smith said. "You just don't know that until you dig down. You are assuming it is regular steel or concrete, but the pipe we found was made of clay."
The party was only just beginning, Smith added. S3 Development also incurred large expenses with NV Energy to bury all power lines in the area.
"We had to underground all power," Smith said. "As we were building, we thought that when the power went down, so did AT&T and Charter, but now we are going back in with them and taking more poles down and undergrounding more utilities for both serviceability and aesthetics of the property and also for the safety of the units."
It was the same scenario as when S3 Development renovated the old Heritage Bank building at 1401 S. Virginia St.
"You never know what you are going to run into, that is why it becomes more expensive," Smith said. "There are all these hidden costs you need to plan for, but you just don't know what you will run into."
S3 Development is less than two months away from taking the same concept used at Midtown Lofts and developing eight additional units at Tonopah Lofts behind 1401 S. Virginia St. Lots are recorded and permits are ready to be pulled, Smith said. He's waiting for the Midtown Lofts project to wrap up.
Smith hasn't yet decided to sell or rent the homes once they are completed. He wants to walk through the completed project before making a determination.
"They are going to be really cool," he said. "Until they get finished and I can walk through them, I won't price them for sale or for rent. They will be really special, and I just want to walk through them before I decide what to do with them."
Smith said the Midtown District will see more projects such as Midtown Lofts and Tonopah Lofts as the area continues to be redeveloped. But urban redevelopment projects are much more difficult than working with bare ground, Smith noted — and he certainly would know. In 1991 Smith started purchasing land that would eventually become the Somersett community in northwest Reno. The first home built in Somersett sold in 2002, and today there are more than 3,700 homes in the community, with more being completed each month.
"I think you will see more and more (urban redevelopment projects) as the market gets tighter," Smith says. "But it is very expensive and complicated to accomplish. It was not an easy task to go in and build urban redevelopment. It is much easier to start with a piece of sagebrush than what we did over there (at Midtown Lofts)."