The Marian Group, a Louisville-based developer, closed last week on the financing for its approximately $14.5 million redevelopment project at the former Walter C. Jetton Junior High School in Paducah.
The developer expects construction to begin in June. Altman-Charter, out of St. Louis, Missouri, will be the contractor, according to The Marian Group.
As announced last summer, The Marian Group is redeveloping the historic property at 401 Walter Jetton Blvd. The project will use different tax credits and feature 42 workforce housing units (including the renovation of 21 existing units), restoration of the Symphony Hall and gymnasium, and partnerships with arts-based organizations.
The Marian Group had previously eyed a 2020 construction start. The Jetton property was purchased in late March, but project financing was closed on last Friday, said Jeremy Dyer, a developer at The Marian Group.
“I think part of it had to do with COVID, for sure,” Dyer said on the delay.
“But, mostly, that had to do with processing information through different agencies. The biggest hold-up became obtaining the historic tax credit approval from the (U.S.) National Park Service. They typically have a 60-day timeline and it took them almost a year.”
The former schoolhouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995, according to nps.gov. Augusta Tilghman High School, which later became Walter C. Jetton Junior High School, opened in fall 1921.
“He’s been extremely, heavily involved and spent tireless hours trying to push this thing to the finish line and getting it closed,” Katie Smith, the developer’s director of operations, said on Dyer.
“We’re really excited to take deteriorated buildings and breathe new life in them. We’re excited to bring these units and these restored historic buildings to Paducah, so that everybody can enjoy them again.”
Dyer said the Jetton project was awarded tax credits by the Kentucky Housing Corporation, which involves a competitive application process. The project will provide additional affordable housing units.
It was initially planned to have 60 housing units, but that changed to 42.
“The reason mostly had to do with the Park Service, (it) didn’t want us to demolish a good portion of the gym, so we couldn’t fit in as many units in there,” he said. “I think we were only going to be able to get like four units or something, so we just decided to restore the gym, but don’t put any units in, so we lost 18 units.”
The housing units will be called The Dunlap apartments, in reference to the late Paducah native Mollie Dunlap, an African American librarian who made notable contributions to the field. It will have a preference for artists, but Dyer said people don’t have to be an artist to live there.
“I think we’re keeping a piece of Paducah history alive and bringing an additional 21 units, but also preserving those existing 21 units, because they were in bad shape,” he said.
“And so, in the end, you’re going to have 42 essentially new construction units, with a lot of amenities. ... One and two bedrooms. And for them to serve a low-income community and provide that housing — it’s a huge need because in doing market study and things, there’s not a lot out there. I think it’s difficult to find housing, especially affordable housing.”
Dyer said the existing tenants, who live at the Jetton Schoolhouse Apartments, are in the process of moving out, and The Marian Group is providing relocation assistance payments and moving expenses. The tenants are to move out before June, and are welcome to return if they want.
“You don’t have to return, but we want to make sure that people have enough money to cover deposits and things like that, because we know it’s a difficult thing to move for anybody,” Dyer added.
On the construction timeline, he estimated it would take about 10 months for the first building to move people back in, but the entire project, including the Symphony Hall, gymnasium and new housing units, would take about 16 months.
The Marian Group is partnering with the Paducah Symphony Orchestra as a tenant. The symphony has previously announced plans to move administrative offices to the property, and open a music academy — in what marks a return to its former home. It will use the restored Symphony Hall for smaller events, but regular symphony concerts will continue to take place at the Carson Center in downtown Paducah.
“It’s one of those things where you plan and plan and plan and it’s all kind of hypothetical, and then all of a sudden, it gets very real. That’s where we are and we are very excited about it,” PSO Executive Director Reece King said.
“We’re excited to see construction begin and start moving the ball, if you will, in a very real way toward that move for us and opening the academy. We just feel like it’s going to be transformative for the community, and for us and our role in the community.”
King said the symphony anticipates signing its lease by the end of May.
It’s dependent on construction work, but he anticipates the symphony to move its administrative offices sometime in the fall or early winter of 2022, and for some music academy activity to start in spring 2023.
“We are planning to offer lessons at substantially below market rate,” King said. “Some of that is dependent upon funding for it, but we do have some commitments there, and provided those commitments come to fruition, then that is our plan.
“I can’t tell you exactly what that looks like right this second, but our plan is to offer instruction for band and orchestra instruments primarily, and be a real resource to the area’s music education programs — both band and orchestra.”
The Marian Group also wants to work with another arts-related group, Dyer confirmed. He said it will look for “hopefully another nonprofit,” maybe out of Paducah, that’s interested in the space. Art Inc. Kentucky, a Lexington-based nonprofit, had been eyed as a second tenant to offer arts programming, but an Art Inc. official told The Sun it decided not to participate at this time.
On April 27, the Paducah City Commission approved grant funds of up to $100,000 to help with part of the property’s roof rehabilitation cost, according to city documents. In August 2020, the previous city commission also approved rezoning 2.96 acres at the property from medium density residential zone to general business zone, in relation to the project.
“The city has been amazing, like everyone — from the former mayor (Brandi Harless) to the present mayor (George Bray), and the planning staff. They’ve all been excited,” Dyer said. “They’ve all had a lot of energy. They’ve been great to work with and get us through this process.”
The city’s principal planner, Katie Axt, called the Jetton plans a “wonderful, important historic preservation project,” as well as a redevelopment project.
“We’re thrilled that The Marian Group is moving forward with their plans to redevelop the project for workforce housing, for community uses, and to also preserve the historic quality of the building,” she told The Sun.
“We think it’s the perfect project to be partnering with a private developer, and also, it’s important to our larger Southside redevelopment strategy for the region.”
Walter Jetton is one of eight neighborhoods listed in Paducah’s Southside, on a city map. The city hopes it “unlocks” future housing opportunities, future infrastructure projects and neighborhood stabilization and growth, Axt said.
In his own remarks, Bray told The Sun he thinks it’s important and a potential “cornerstone” project for that part of the Southside area.
“There’s a lot of different neighborhoods in the Southside and Walter Jetton is one of those neighborhoods, and certainly that could be a cornerstone for beginning some redevelopment,” he said.
“Money, many times, follows money, and so you get an investment like (that) and people are going to have more confidence to reinvest in homes or to even make speculative purchases in that area for development.”