City looking at two renovation plans for armory building

Elkhart Redevelopment Commission will consider two plans Thursday to renovate the Armory building.
Posted on May 22, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on May 22, 2013 at 4:27 p.m.

ELKHART — A grocery store with luxury apartments, or maybe office space or a nice restaurant?

Elkhart’s redevelopment commission will look at two distinctly different plans and approaches for the Armory building when they meet Thursday, May 23.

Barkley Garrett, director of economic development for the city, is expected to provide a recommendation to the commission when they meet Thursday afternoon.

If officials are not content with either of the proposals, Garrett and the city could decide to proceed with plans to demolish the historic building at 200 N. Main St.

If one of the proposals are embraced by the commission, the developer will then be given more time to investigate existing damage and determine whether the plan is feasible, Garrett said.

The “opt out” option would be available because of the short amount of time the developers have had to prepare plans for the city-owned building and because of the extent of work needed on the building, including repairs to a partially collapsed roof.

The city, with a sense of immediacy, has simultaneously been working on “parallel plans” to either renovate the building or raze it because of the building’s condition.

The two competing plans are offered by Cripe Design of Elkhart and David R. Snyder of South Bend.

In its proposal to the city, Cripe lays out a detailed tentative plan, but underscores a reserved approach based on concerns about the building’s condition.

Cripe proposes either a single use or multiple use project involving office space, retail or possibly a restaurant or bar.

In paperwork submitted to the city, Cripe states: “Our Team recognizes the unique opportunities that the Armory and its location can offer such as the historic architectural characteristics of the interior and exterior, large unobstructed open floor space on two levels with river views ... and proximity to the Riverwalk and downtown.”

But Cripe specifically requests 30 to 60 days to investigate and “thoroughly inspect” the building’s condition and determine if there are any unknown problems.

Cripe indicated in paperwork that it would likely opt out of the project if they discover more extensive damage involving exterior walls or the structure.

At the same time, the firm could begin working on plans to rehab the historic facades, repair structural concerns and replace the roof.

The firm envisions restoring the building’s facades on the west and south sides to an early 1900s appearance and renovating the north and east facades possibly with new and larger windows for a view of the Elkhart River.

Snyder is more confident about the building’s condition and outlined a fast timeline for the project, which he envisions housing a grocery store on the first floor and luxury apartments above.

Snyder called the Armory a “fantastic building” and downplayed concerns about the building’s dilapidated condition.

“I don’t think they’re that extensive. There’s been a lot of negative talk about the building, but it’s not in that bad of shape, really. It just needs to be repaired, shored up a little bit, cleaned up and made into something usable by the community,” Snyder said.

In paperwork submitted to the city, Snyder told city officials: “We envision little change to the building for our stated use other than the partitioning of the upstairs for necessary accoutrements for apartment life, including an elevator from the basement parking to the second floor.”

According to Snyder’s timeline, repairs to the roof could begin in June, renovations could begin in September and the project could be complete within months.

Cripe Design has overseen dozens of major renovations to historical structures in the area, including the Lerner Theatre in Elkhart and the Morris Performing Arts Center in South Bend.

Snyder has restored several homes including a home in St. Joseph, Mich., that was built in 1890, according to paperwork submitted to the city. He said he plans to use a professional architectural firm.

Snyder confirmed he was a former town council member in Roseland, Ind., just north of South Bend for a few years ago in the mid 2000s.

Roseland town leaders made headlines during that period when town meetings occasionally included fights, screaming matches and numerous allegations of wrong-doing. In one instance, Snyder was attacked outside of town hall.

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