L DE V MANIA

Apartments still planned for old Hattiesburg High

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A little more than a year ago, officials representing downtown Hattiesburg and Jackson-based Intervest Corp. announced plans to transform the former Hattiesburg High School on Main Street into an age-restricted apartment development.

With the recent sale of the building to Intervest owner Steve Nail, that project — tentatively named Preservation Crossing — is back on track.

"Mr. Nail held rights to the property through legal option for more than four years," said Andrea Saffle, executive director of the Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association. "Now, the sale is complete, and we are excited at the prospect of getting this project underway."

The upcoming facility, which is aimed at residents 62 years of age and older, is expected to offer 70 to 75 apartments that are 575 to 800 square feet per unit. The majority of the units will be one-bedroom — although a handful of two-bedroom units may be available — and will feature a full kitchen, full bath and an on-site manager.

"We love older properties that you can bring back to their original glory," Nail said. "That particular site is close to downtown, it’s good for my elderly tenants, and it’s a great building. When we restore it like it was when it was built … I think it’ll be a wonderful-looking property."

To keep the apartments affordable, Nail expects to set rent for the units at approximately $600 per month. A similar project in Pascagoula, where he converted an old school into apartments for elderly residents, has so far been a success.

"The tenants, the city — everybody loves them," Nail said. "I’ve got a waiting list."

Nail’s next step for the project will be to make an application to Mississippi Home Corporation, created in 1989 to address affordable housing needs throughout Mississippi. Nail also will apply for both federal and state historic tax credits to help with additional funding.

"We’re going to make another run at it — it’s an application process," Nail said. "We weren’t successful last year, but the point system looks a little better this year for us. So hopefully we’ll get the tax credits."

Nail hopes to find out by the end of summer if the application for the credits is successful. If so, construction on the building could start by the end of this year or the beginning of next year at a cost of about $10 million.

"If we get (the credits) then, I’ve still got a lot of work to do with the park service to get our plans and specifications approved by them," Nail said. "The (Mississippi Department of) Archives and History, they’ve got to do approvals, and the architect has got to finish drawing plans."

Construction on the original multiple-story building, at 846 N. Main St., began in 1911. The facility was used as a school until 1959, after which it served as headquarters for Hattiesburg Public School District and was home to an antiques mall until 2001. The building, which has remained vacant since then, was heavily damaged in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina and again in 2007 by arson.

The facility was named a Mississippi Landmark in 1986 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. The historic aspect of the building will continue during renovation, as officials plan to keep the frame intact and build around it.

"The (HHDA) board worked for many years to negotiate a project for this building that would serve to revitalize this section of downtown," Saffle said. "We are working closely with Steve to make sure that happens, with respect to guidelines identified by the Department of Archives and History."

Ward 2 Councilwoman Deborah Delgado said she is anxious to see work begin on the project.

"I certainly am happy, and I look forward to having affordable housing downtown," she said.

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