SHIAWASSEE REGIONAL CHAMBER leaders and local officials gathered on Thursday, April 13 to announce the official completion of the purchase of the 102-year-old Owosso Armory. Soon restoration will begin on the building, at 201 N. Water St., as a part of the revitalization of Owosso’s downtown. At the event these Chamber Board members were present: (from left) Mike Cross, Paul Early, Bill Brown, Heidi O’Dea, Kevin Maurer, Chairman Jay Slingerland, Randy Woodworth, Aaron Maike, Angie Ruzinsky, Carrie Rathbun-Hawks, and Chamber President/CEO Jeff Deason.
The Armory, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, will be made into a collaborative space for small businesses, a business incubator, and a center for regional economic development. The building’s exterior will be preserved, but the interior will be transformed into state-of-the-art space reflective of the facility’s history since its construction in 1915. Renovations will start as early as next week and are expected to be a $5 million project.
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 groups. In 2007, the 144th left for a modern facility and The Armory has been vacant since.
“My great-grandfather was a member of the 144th and served proudly in WWI,” says Jay Slingerland, chamber board chair. “There has been support for the Armory Project. 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 go to dinner at one of 15 restaurants within walking distance. A wave of redevelopment and vitality is happening all around, from a thriving manufacturing industry to expanding arts and cultural offerings, including the renovated Lebowsky Center just a few blocks away. It’s inspiring for The Armory to be the newest exciting initiative.”
After nearly four years in the making, the project will quickly move forward by the Chamber through a funding package of federal Historic Tax Credits and New Market Tax Credits through the National Trust Community Investment Corporation, the first such pairing in the nation as part of a NTCIC’S Small Deal Fund. A variety of other significant grants and tax relief dollars, as well as loans and money from the chamber’s own cash reserves, are also in the financing mix.
The Armory’s website, thearmoryproject.com, has more information regarding the upcoming changes. In the near future, the chamber will be asking the community to share stories of The Armory by submitting historical accounts, artifacts, and photos online or at the chamber office.
(Independent Photo/Graham Sturgeon)