The Armory in downtown Owosso is now the property of the Shiawassee Regional Chamber of Commerce after its leaders closed on a complex and unique financing package. This means the building – 102 years old and vacant for a decade – will soon see new life with a $5 million renovation that will create class-A office space and collaborative incubator and community initiatives in a region already seeing revitalization.
Built in 1915 and listed on the coveted National Register of Historic Places, the building’s exterior will be fully preserved while its spacious, 36,000-square-foot interior will be transformed into space that is state-of-the-art yet reflective of the facility’s history. During World War I, soldiers from the 144th National Guard unit deployed from the Armory for France. These soldiers were among the first American troops to set foot on German soil during the war. Following the war, the building served as a space for community events, prize fights, weddings and musical artists, including American pop rock band Grand Funk Railroad and “The Godfather of Shock Rock,” Alice Cooper. In 2007, the 144th left for a modern facility and The Armory has been vacant since.
“My great-grandfather was one of the original members of the 144th in 1917 and proudly served in WWI,” says Jay Slingerland, chamber board chair. “There has been enthusiastic support since we announced our intent to purchase the building. Business, community and government leaders, as well as current and former residents, recognize its potential impact not just on Owosso’s downtown, but on the entire region.
“Imagine being able to walk to a castle for lunch, watch a local band play right outside your office door or going to a great dinner at one of 15 restaurants within walking distance. A wave of redevelopment and vitality is happening, from a thriving manufacturing industry to expanding arts and cultural offerings, including the renovated Lebowsky Center a few blocks away. It’s inspiring for The Armory to be the newest initiative.”
Part of what makes this particular deal historic is that SRCC has secured both federal Historic Tax Credits and New Market Tax Credits through the National Trust Community Investment Corporation. This is the first such pairing in the nation as part of an NTCIC national main street initiative called the Small Deal Fund. It is worth $1.24 million to The Armory project.
In September 2016, SRCC also received a $1.47 million grant from the Michigan Strategic Fund, a division of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Brownfield Tax Increment Financing reimbursements have been negotiated with the city and approved through a 381 Workplan by MEDC. Additionally, chamber reserves have been utilized as needed.
“The Armory project has been nearly four years in the making. It’s not unusual for historic renovation projects to take a long time to come together because the financing and regulatory elements are complex. We’re very thankful for all the partners who have worked with us along the way, and for the way our board members over these past four years have supported and molded this bold vision,” added Slingerland.
In addition to the chamber, anchor tenants to date are the Shiawassee Convention & Visitors’ Bureau, a satellite office of the Michigan Small Business Development Center and Shiawassee Economic Development Partnership. Woodworth Commercial has recruited several other organizations from mid-Michigan who have also leased space but cannot be named publicly yet.
Kincaid Henry Building Group of Lansing is handling construction management and has special expertise in historical renovation. This week it received a Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation for a project in downtown Milan, Mich. All other vendors on the project will be selected through a competitive bid process. Shiawassee Regional Chamber members who meet the criteria for subcontracted services will be especially encouraged to participate.
“It’s very important that we use local talent whenever possible on this project. It may not always be feasible, but we intend to make a concerted effort to patronize and involve our members,” says Jeff Deason, president and CEO of SRCC.
The Armory is centrally located in mid-Michigan, close to major cities like Lansing, Flint, Detroit, Grand Rapids and Saginaw, adds Deason, allowing tenants easy access to local, regional, national and worldwide markets. Shiawassee County is also part of the I-69 International Trade Corridor, which is a strategic commercial gateway between the Midwestern United States and Ontario, Canada.
Included in lease rates are 1G of fiber internet speed – the fastest in the region – provided by Owosso-based DayStarr Communications, as well as utilities and maintenance. Tenants will also enjoy common spaces where they can network, collaborate on projects and entertain clients. The Armory may also have rentable community and conference rooms, as well as access to the beautiful Shiawassee River and CIS bike trail, explains Deason. On weekends, a large farmers’ market is just outside the front door.
The Armory’s Web site, thearmoryproject.com, has more information, including armory history, floor plans and leasing contacts. In the near future, SRCC will be asking the community to share its stories of The Armory by submitting historical accounts, artifacts and photos online or at the chamber offices.
People who are interested in leasing space in The Armory can contact Woodworth Commercial at 989-723-3711 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Other inquiries should be directed to the chamber at 989-723-5149.