MICHIGAN CITY | A major ingredient for advancing the revitalization of Michigan City's downtown is over halfway completed.

By spring, there should be people living and, perhaps, shopping or dining in the long abandoned six-story Warren Building that went up in 1924.

Applications will likely start being accepted in November for the 44 affordable living units in the building in the heart of the downtown's historic arts district, said Sarah White, director of property development for Artspace, the owner of the building.

Artspace is headquartered in Minneapolis with offices in Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Seattle and Washington, D.C. It runs a network of more than 35 affordable arts facilities in 15 states

The building also will feature a half dozen storefronts in 5,000 square feet of commercial space that a coffee shop or cafe, for example, might find attractive along with a gallery for residents to display and sell their art work, White said.

A community room for use by the public will be on the very top floor.

Units on the fourth and fifth floors provide bird's-eye views not only of the downtown but, off in the distance, Lake Michigan.

White said anyone can apply but the preference is for artists in units that fit their needs with high ceilings, plenty of natural lighting and space for them to work.

The original terrazzo floors are being refurbished and their solid, smooth surface will make messes like paint splatters in the work areas easy to clean up.

Tenants can also be creators of things like music and poetry and they don't have to make a living with their art to qualify for a unit, she said.

Rent under a one-year lease will be determined by income with a one-bedroom unit, for example, ranging from $300 to $600 a month.

Tonn & Blank Construction began work in January on the $10.5 million  remodeling and restoration of what used to be Michigan City's tallest building at 717 Franklin St.

The project was made possible primarily from housing and historic tax credits from the state offsetting the cost for the developer, officials said.

Originally, the building was designed for mixed use and during its heyday was a premier hotel and home to retailers like Montgomery Ward and even City Hall spent a few years occupying some of the space along with a dentist office and bar.

Its demise came as stores fled the downtown for shopping malls in outlying areas and its comeback comes with many of the once-empty storefronts now filled with trendy stores, shops and some office space.

City Councilman Richard Murphy said the building was in bad shape with trees and shrubs growing on the inside from years of sitting empty and water getting inside from a leaky roof that was replaced just over a year ago.

He couldn't be happier with how the structure is taking shape and the work being on schedule and on budget.

"I think we have a lot to be excited about," Murphy said.

Structurally, the building is in excellent shape with just a previously weak north end wall having to be shored up, said Gregory Kil, with the designers of the project, Kil Architecture Planning in South Bend.

Aside from that, less than 10 percent of the steel behind the brick exterior had to be replaced compared to much as 80 percent in other older structures, Kil said.

Many rooms on the upper floors already have finished drywall while all levels have all new metal studs installed.

As many as 75 people have been working on the structure daily, said David Albers, the project manager for Tonn & Blank.

Albers said an occupancy permit should be obtained by Feb. 12, but it won't be until March or April the facility will be ready to move in.

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