City News, ECONOMY

Renovation of former Whitlock’s space gets $500,000 boost

A plan to renovate the vacant former home of a vacuum and sewing store in downtown Salem got a boost Monday night after the city’s Urban Renewal Agency board voted to grant $500,000 to the developer.

The project will remake 455 Court St. N.E. into a mixed use space, with eight apartments on the upper floor and businesses on the ground floor and basement.

The storefront housed Whitlock’s Vacuum & Sewing Center for 70 years before the business moved to a smaller location on Southeast 12th Street in May.

Now, Salem developer Charles Weathers is revisioning the building – planning to add two studio apartments, four one-bedrooms and two two-bedrooms upstairs, as well as a laundromat, bar, comedy club and formal wear shop.

Weathers was also behind the renovation of another historic downtown building into the Fork Forty Food Hall and apartments on State Street.

He bought the former Whitlock building for $2.1 million in April and has since been working on plans and securing interested tenants.

Salem developer Charles Weathers looks out onto Court Street Northeast from the second floor of the former Whitlock’s Sewing Center building, which he purchased in April 2022 and plans to restore (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Weathers expects the building renovation to cost $2.8 million, according to documents submitted to the city’s Urban Renewal Agency. Hesought city funding after maximizing the loan amount on the property based on its appraised value.

“Our proposed site plan and building design seeks to create a variety of dwelling options to attract the widest audience of users offering modern conveniences, while still honoring the historic character of the building – the marriage of which is really the embodiment of the downtown core,” Weathers’ letter to the board said. “These are not luxury units, nor are they micro concepts – they are 8 residences that will bring customers, employees and families closer to the downtown core, helping this sleepy section of Court St further contribute to the vibrancy of the area.”

On the recommendation of city employees, the board, which is composed of the Salem City Council, voted unanimously to approve the grant.

The Urban Renewal Agency normally caps grants at $300,000 per project but can grant an exception to a project if it meets multiple criteria. In this case, the project qualified by providing recruitment of businesses, upper floor renovations and housing.

Sheri Wahgren, Salem’s downtown revitalization manager, said it’s the sixth project approved for an exception to the maximum grant amount since the exception was created in 2017.

“I am thankful the Board agreed to grant me the additional funds – this grant program has been vital to the success of my other projects downtown and will be even more important for 455 Court St in light of the current economic climate, especially within the subset of the construction sector,” Weathers said in an email to Salem Reporter. “It would have been a tremendous challenge for us to move forward with our plans had this grant amount not been approved.”

A miniature model house on the second floor at 455 Court St. once served as a display room for a furniture store that occupied the space before becoming storage. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Salem’s Historic Landmarks Commission has approved the project and city planners must next review and approve its site plan.

Weathers said he’s working on that application and hopes to have approval and begin renovations in early 2023. He expects construction will take about nine months once permits are approved, though that’s his best guess given the uncertainty of the industry and supply chain challenges.

Weathers said all commercial spaces in the building have letters of intent or leases signed. The west half of the ground floor will be a combination laundromat and bar, with the bar extending into the basement.

The east half will be a fancy dress and formal wear shop “with a focus on fashion-show type presentation and events,” he said. The remainder of the basement will be a comedy club.

Weathers did not name any of the businesses, saying he wasn’t sure any were ready to make their names or plans public yet.

“I know the operators personally and am already very excited about their visions and the quality of offerings they plan to bring to downtown,” he said.

Windows on the second floor at 455 Court St. N.E., which served at storage for Whitlock’s Vacuum & Sewing Center before the business relocated in the spring of 2022 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Correction: This article originally misstated the number of apartments to be added. It is two four-bedroom apartments, and a total of eight units. Salem Reporter apologizes for the error.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.