Liberty Lofts on Target

From the outside, Liberty Lofts may still look like a shuttered factory.

Yet the inside hums with activity as dozens of workers convert the former Eaton Corp. facility on the western edge of downtown Ann Arbor into 68 condominiums that will be move-in ready this August.

By the end of March, the work will shift to include multiple changes that will be visible from the street. That includes new windows in the existing building, framing for the new addition and streetscaping around the site.

“There’s been a tremendous amount of work underground,” said developer Ron Mucha. “It’s been a quiet time on the outside, but it’s never been quiet on the inside.”

Mucha, vice president of Chicago-based Morningside Group, said the project is complex, since it ties together an existing building with new construction that offers buyers 15 different floorplans.

When Liberty Lofts is completed, it will be a unique addition to the Ann Arbor residential market, Mucha said.

The complexity of the project has added to the typical building challenges that face infill development, said Doug Manix, president of Southfield-based Campbell/Manix Inc., the general contractor.

The finished residential project will consist of two parts: The existing building, which was constructed in stages over the decades, serving as a manufacturing center and offices. A second component essentially a large addition is under construction on the west side of the site.

Conversion to residential use means that old and new has to be integrated.

Part of that includes blending two different support systems between the buildings, with the goal of making it seamless to residents.

“In taking what was essentially an industrial building and adapting it to residential, … some of the existing conditions you run into and making that work with a marketable floor plan is the central challenge,” said Dave Endres, project manager for Campbell/Manix.

A lot of the early work on the site involved “a tremendous amount of field verification or surveying of existing buildings,” Endres said, “so that the new building would tie into it correctly.”

Getting the floors right was a major part of the job. Each, Manix said, “was a little different.”

“The existing building had so many variations and floor elevations,” Endres said. “It really needed to be releveled to accommodate wood floors and meet up with the elevation of the new building.”

The existing floors will be retopped with concrete, while the new building gets pre-cast planks.

The street level will contain parking spaces, a fitness center, and the lobby. Because the building is in the city’s floodplain, the developers had to follow federal regulations that included building a flood-proof room for switch gears and meters.

Mucha said one of the lower level’s corners is an example of how involved the interior work became during the months when the site seemed inactive to passers-by.

That corner, Mucha said, looks like a simple part of the building.

However, it formerly had an elevator and stairwell that needed to be removed while retaining the structural integrity of the building.

Meanwhile, all levels have been sandblasted, sprinkler systems are being retrofit across the structure, and plumbing and electrical functions are being added.

Part of the upcoming work will be the windows: the existing building will get new replicas of the windows that were in the building for years.

The original building will house lofts with exposed pipes and original walls, which include brick and deteriorated concrete. Both add to the urban quality of the units, Mucha said. The addition building will contain “soft lofts,” or units that have more traditional residential construction components.

“This can never be duplicated,” he said. “You’ll never have another building in Ann Arbor with these kinds of features.”

Sales for Liberty Lofts are at about 70 percent, Mucha said. A few have sold early this year, and he said activity should increase as the exterior work escalates.

Remaining units are priced from the upper $200,000 range to under $500,000.

Paula Gardner can be contacted at (734) 302-1715 or pgardner@mbizreview.com.

Click here to visit the Liberty Lofts website!

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