by Elizabeth Wehman, editor
(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)
The Armory in downtown Owosso, more than a century old and vacant for nearly a decade, will finally see new life as the Shiawassee Regional Chamber of Commerce recently received confirmation of a $1.5 million grant from the Michigan Strategic Fund, a division of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. 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 100-year-old facility’s history.
The significant grant seals the complicated but collaborative and historic $4.3 million public-private financing package the chamber board and staff have been working on for more than three years. A date will be set soon to sign the documents to close on the project.
“We’ve always believed in this project, despite how long it’s taken and the many setbacks we’ve had,” Deason said. “This initiative has crossed three board chairs and several board members who have fulfilled their terms and moved on after providing valuable guidance. The learning curve has been very steep, but we can see the top of the mountain now.” Deason added, “The community support has also been amazing and very encouraging.”
Since 2007, the Armory building has been for sale after being vacated by the government’s 144th Military Police Company. In 2013, the chamber originally entered into a purchase agreement with the state. There have been three extensions on that agreement.
This deal is particularly historic as the Chamber 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 a national main street initiative. Brownfield Tax Increment Financing reimbursements and Community Revitalization Program monies from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation are also in the funding package. Additionally, the chamber has been building its reserves for nearly 15 years for a significant project such as this and has been used as needed.
The Chamber, the Shiawassee Economic Development Partnership, Shiawassee Convention & Visitors’ Bureau and Small Business Development Center are anchor tenants to date. Woodworth Commercial has been negotiating with
several other organizations from mid-Michigan who are interested in leasing armory space, some of whom have signed letters of intent to be in the building.
“Now that things are finally moving forward, we want to first thank our anchor tenants for their patience. These restoration projects are very complicated and take an enormous amount of effort and considerable time to pull together,” explained Deason.
“These endeavors attract new businesses and create jobs. There has been enthusiastic support for The Armory project since we announced our intent to purchase the building last year. 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,” elaborated SRCC Board Chair Jay Slingerland.