As it is in all states, historic preservation and adaptive reuse are key contributors to the economic revitalization of Michigan communities. Preserving the character of our communities enhances property values, creates a unique sense of place, rejuvenates downtowns and promotes tourism.
Originally based in Maryland, UltraCamp owner Daniel Ashley relocated to Michigan in 2009 to be closer to family. While searching for a new home, he discovered the town of Niles: it had the selection of housing, quality and price he was looking for.
For the first couple years after moving to Niles, he and his employees worked from home, yet Ashley knew he wanted an office location, so he reached out to the city of Niles to help him find the perfect fit for his business.
Ashley’s original plan was new construction. He found and purchased property that was adjacent to a city park in Niles, but had trouble securing bank financing due to the lack of comp buildings in the area which would affect the appraisal.
When it became evident that the property wasn’t going to work out, the city suggested an existing building located at 123 and 127 East Main Street in downtown Niles. The property had good bones, it just needed extensive maintenance and repair and vision.
“The building was quite large and located on a visible corner of downtown. It had been three separate buildings that merged into one in the 1980s. It sat empty without being maintained for the past 10 years. When Ashley and his team walked through the building and saw its potential and that it was structurally sound, they knew this was the building for them,” said Lisa Croteau, CMSM, Program Manager, Niles DDA Main Street.
The development team went to the city and offered to trade the property adjacent to the city park for the historic building for $50,000. The building appraised for $860,000, which was much lower than the $1.4 million it would take to renovate the property.
To help fill the financial gap between equity and bank financing, Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) offered UltraCamp a Michigan Community Revitalization grant and the city of Niles offered a Main Street Façade Grant.
“This project perfectly embodies the goals of successful historic preservation,” said Nathan Nietering, preservation specialist with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). “The 100 block of East Main Street was included in the Niles Downtown Historic District, which was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. This listing made the project eligible for the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Credit.”
Without federal, state and local support, this project wouldn’t have been possible. Ashley worked with the city of Niles and the SHPO to maintain the historic character of the building, but it was no small task.
“It was a complicated process. One-third of the building is considered contributing to the historic district; the other portion is not,” said Ashley. “There was so much to it, but Lisa at Niles DDA helped me navigate the process, secure the tax credits and we completed the renovation in three and a half years. Now our space looks like a typical software company out in Silicon Valley. We are so proud of how it turned out.”
Completed in 2016, the UltraCamp project comprises over 14,000 square feet and includes a fitness facility on the ground floor, a foam pit, a full-size competition trampoline, a two-story climbing wall and a gerbil tube for staff to crawl around that spans the ceiling.
This project has been instrumental in bringing about a resurgence to downtown Niles.
“The growth we’ve seen has been really wonderful,” said Croteau. “Projects include our old Elk building, which is now the Grand LV Event Center; workforce housing for first time, younger employees utilizing the historic post office on Main Street; and a former muffler shop transformed into the Iron Shoe Distillery.”
“Historic preservation is critical to the growth of downtown Niles,” said Laura Krizov, manager at Michigan Main Street. “It is part of the comprehensive framework that Niles has been using to create the economic vitality and sense of place that continues to draw visitors, businesses and residents to their community.”
This article by Kristine Richmond originally appeared on the website of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Reprinted here (with minor edits) by permission.