Preservation on the Ground: Woodbury’s Armory in Burlington, VT

A historic building that sits empty for ten years is not an untold story in preservation, even if it appears to be in a prime location. The brick armory on Main Street in Burlington, VT sat empty since 2003, leaving passersby to wonder about its fate. What they did not know: this story is different. 

The Armory in its day as Hunt's Mill & Mining. Photo source: Housing Vermont. Click for link.

The Armory in its day as R.W. Hunt Mill & Mining Company. Photo source: Housing Vermont. Click for link.

Setting the Stage: Woodbury’s Armory

Urban Woodbury built the Armory in 1904 and leased the space to the National Guard. In its storied history, the Armory has served as a car dealership, R.W. Hunt Mill & Mining Company, Sha-Na-Na’s Night Club, and as office space. Circa 2000, a popular local music venue was looking to buy the space, but couldn’t decipher logistics with the City of Burlington. Fire struck in 2003, leaving the building unoccupied and seemingly forgotten after 100 years of use.

Enter Redstone

Who would want a burned-out, muddled, old building? Most would shy away. Fortunately, not Redstone, a company well known and respected for its historic preservation and rehabilitation of Vermont buildings such as the Chace Mill in Winooski and the Maltex Building in Burlington’s South End. After the fire, Redstone purchased and mothballed the building, and began working on the dilemma of the Armory’s next chapter. Erik Hoekstra, manager of the project, met with me on a surprisingly warm January afternoon for a tour of the building and project talk.

View from the corner of Main Street and Pine Street.

View from the corner of Main Street and Pine Street.

The Big (Block) Picture

The real story is that the building was never forgotten. Like its past, the future of Woodbury’s Armory is part of a bigger picture: the redevelopment of the Main-Pine-King-St. Paul block in the City of Burlington. The block includes TD Bank, Hinds Lofts, a mixed use block (King Street Housing), and a handful of private residences.

The Armory is located at the corner of Main Street and Pine Street. Note its location between the waterfront and Church Street.

The Armory is located at the corner of Main Street and Pine Street. Note its location between the waterfront and Church Street.

In addition to being a part of this block redevelopment, the Armory stands as an important link between Burlington’s successful Church Street pedestrian mall and the popular Lake Champlain Waterfront.

Landscaping plan-2 copy2

A landscaping plan, courtesy of Redstone, edited by author. Main Street is at the top of the image.

As Hoekstra and Redstone worked to develop a successful plan, the company invested in new windows, new stone sills, brick repointing and a new roof in 2007 for the Armory.  Not forgotten, but rather, the building was waiting for a sound, successful plan to germinate. According to Hoekstra, parking and finances were great challenges of this project. Parking is at a premium in the City of Burlington, and a building like the Armory didn’t come with parking. Working with property acquired from TD Bank, Redstone was able redesign the remaining open block space – then a surface parking lot – and provide enough parking.  In terms of finances, the Armory could not succeed alone as standalone project. It had to be bigger. It needed the entire block.   In the end, there are many funding partners and sources including Vermont State Tax Credits and New Market Tax Credits.

The first floor of the Armory shows where a pool will be located and where the floor above had to be removed.

The first floor of the Armory shows where a pool will be located and where the floor above had to be removed.

The Plan

As of February 2014, construction is well underway at the Armory. The Main-Pine-King-St. Paul block will soon be home to a new hotel, parking garage, and retail space. Woodbury’s Armory, on the Main Street/Pine Street corner will serve as the hotel lobby for the Hilton Garden Inn. The first floor of the Armory will house the hotel pool and retail space, hopefully a restaurant to add to Burlington’s eclectic mix of eateries. To the south and extending east from Armory will be an addition to house the 2 story parking garage with 4 floors of hotel rooms above. Sensitive to streetscape and the historic context, the garage/hotel addition will have different height elevation on St. Paul Street and Pine Street. Guests will access the lobby from the porte-cochère off Main Street.

The King Street and Main Street elevations of the project. Photo courtesy of Redstone.

The King Street and Main Street elevations of the project. Photo courtesy of Redstone.

St. Paul Street and Pine Street elevations. Courtesy of Redstone.

St. Paul Street and Pine Street elevations. Courtesy of Redstone.

Preservationists might ask why a chain hotel? Hoekstra said that although Redstone hoped for a boutique hotel, banks were only agreeable to funding an established, large business with a loyal customer base. The Hilton Garden Inn will be operated under a franchise agreement with Hilton, but will be locally owned by Redstone and partners.  Hilton has been amenable in terms of designing a unique space and incorporating the Armory’s historic features into the rehabilitation. The 139 room hotel is set to open by the end of 2014.

The Armory under construction, February 2014.

The Armory under construction, February 2014.

Why the Armory & Historic Preservation?

As Erik Hoekstra stated, Redstone prefers preservation and rehabilitation projects because of the challenge and commitment to the community. Sprawl development does not give that same satisfaction of project completion. Urban infill, smart growth, and redevelopment make the job more interesting.

One of the best finds of the restoration was uncovering the Armory carved into the granite lintel.

One of the best finds of the restoration was uncovering the Armory carved into the granite lintel.

Hoekstra credits his interest in historic buildings and development to growing up in several historic houses, including a Sears Roebuck Catalog house in LaGrange, IL. Hoekstra studied real estate and finance and worked in New York City before coming to Vermont in 2001 to work with Housing Vermont and later Redstone. He studied Real Estate Development in the Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.

Interested in Hoekstra’s line of work? He advises that there are many roads to working in development and historic preservation. Some include working in construction, property management, finance or a non-profit organization like Housing Vermont. Hoekstra says that no matter the type of company, the process is still the same: Design, permit, finance, legal, construction.

When asked about his favorite part of this project, Hoekstra said that it’s seeing all of the puzzle pieces fit together. And that is always a preservation success story.

A view looking north on Pine Street.

A view looking north on Pine Street.

Preservation on the Ground: Norla Preservation Project

Social media makes the world seem smaller and larger at the same time. Smaller in the sense that you come across people with similar interests and crazy six degrees of separation. News travels faster, instantaneously. Larger in the sense that you discover so much more than you knew existed. Best of all, this small and large  social media sphere allows us to meet people taking on exciting projects across the country, and world.

This brings me to introduce “Preservation on the Ground”, a new series for Preservation in Pink that will interview passionate people wrangling preservation projects and living inspiring stories.

The first story here brings us to Kelly Rich in Louisiana and the Norla Preservation Project. Kelly found PiP on instragram and intrigued by her photos, I immediately followed Norla and began asking questions about the project. Want to hear it straight from Kelly? Read on. Below is the interview with Kelly.

The shotgun houses in Shreveport, LA. Photo courtesy of Kelly Rich.

The six historic shotgun houses in Shreveport, LA. Photo courtesy of Kelly Rich.

What’s your 30 second elevator pitch for your project?

Norla Preservation Project is a newly formed nonprofit utilizing adaptive reuse on a project that was set for demolition. We are trying to teach by example that historic buildings that may have outlived their original purpose still have value and potential for something new. We are taking six historic shotgun houses that were marked for demolition and re-purposing them into small business commercial use. We will use the project to promote awareness of our local historic architecture and cultural heritage.

The shotgun houses, boarded up and awaiting this project.

The shotgun houses, boarded up and awaiting this project. Photo courtesy of Kelly Rich.

What’s the overall plan?

Norla’s goal is to complete the shotgun commercial development and lease the buildings to local small businesses. Our ideal property would include at least two casual restaurants, a coffee shop and bakery, a small market selling Louisiana products, a bookstore and gallery, and a piano jazz bar. Once the property is successful and income producing, we will take the profit and adopt another adaptive reuse project. We will also offer preservation education opportunities to the community.

A site plan view of the Norla project. Image courtesy of Kelly Rich.

A site plan view of the Norla project. Image courtesy of Kelly Rich.

How will it be funded?

We are raising money and looking into grant opportunities. Also we are developing several sponsorship and donor possibilities for a state-wide supported project.

The birdseye view of the proposed site plan.

The birdseye view of the proposed site plan. Image courtesy of Kelly Rich.

Who is helping you on this project?

Not sure how to answer this one. I have several representatives from the City of Shreveport and other preservation groups in Louisiana that are guiding us in the right direction. We do not have any developers or corporate sponsors as of yet. We have nine amazing board members and a growing community of volunteers.

Do you have a time frame?

Once we go forward with the donation of the shotgun houses from the city this year, we plan to work with a 18-24 month timeline.

The Shotgun houses.

The Shotgun houses. Photo courtesy of Kelly Rich.

What motivated you to take on such a project?

As a single mom, I had an opportunity to purchase a historic building several years ago. After researching the cost and time requirements to rehabilitate, I regretfully walked away. I hate that story. I gave up too easily. When I encountered another rehab gamble with the shotgun houses, I stepped up with the thought of “Just try.” My motivation came from the realization that if I didn’t do something then, these houses would be gone forever. It started from a mild curiosity of asking questions to a feeling of obligation and responsibility to these houses. I hated the thought of losing a part of history because no one wanted them. And plus I am determined to have an “I told you so” moment….to myself mostly.

Kelly and her daughter.

Kelly and her daughter Madeline in front of the shotgun houses. Adorable! Photo courtesy of Kelly Rich.

Tell me about your background. How did you get interested in historic preservation?

My love of anything old came from my father. He is a wonderful storyteller and one of the most knowledgeable men I know. He would always have a story to tell about an old church or building, and it instilled in me an appreciation of how buildings and houses all have a story to tell if we take the time to pay attention. Ten years ago, I bought my first historic home, joined my first historical association, and fell hard for the historic preservation life. I’ve been active in different historic and cultural groups since.

Kelly showing that the shotgun houses matter!

Kelly showing that the shotgun houses matter! Photo courtesy of Kelly Rich.

Do you consider yourself a preservationist?

It’s definitely part of who I am. I’m no expert in the field of preservation, but I have a desire to learn and consider myself an aggressive advocate for the buildings that have stories that need to be shared. I am a bit of a romantic when it comes to old buildings. I imagine who all might have walked through the doors, what they might have thought about, what they might have seen. It hurts my heart to see them in disrepair because of neglect and indifference. I also have a constant need for a project to obsess over or I go insane.

What or who inspires you? What keeps you going?

I consistently am described as “enthusiastic.” I have had multiple occasions where I start sharing about the project and I get the dubious looks, but by the end of the spiel, their eyes are bright and they’re nodding in agreement. THAT’S what keeps me going…all the skeptics that I can convert to supporters. There’s a teeny tiny (ha!) stubborn streak in me that gets even more excited when challenged. I have learned that passion is contagious and we are trying our best to infect the masses with a preservation minded spirit!

The Norla logo. Image courtesy of Kelly Rich.

The Norla logo. Image courtesy of Kelly Rich.

What can others do to help?

The easiest thing is to share our project with others. Norla is new in the preservation world, and we hope hearing our story might trigger an emotional response and possibly create new volunteers and donors. Once we finalize our budget and timeline, we will plan several volunteer work weekends with a little Louisiana fun mixed in as well.We are working with Adventures in Preservation and the NCPTT to offer these working vacations themed on historic preservation. Keep watching the website or sign up for our newsletter to keep up with updates.

Find Norla on Facebook, on Instagram, and on the project website. And share this video with others! You can see how much passion Kelly has, and we all know that any preservation project could use some extra hands, good vibes, and some funding. Share the love and the good preservation news that’s happening on the ground.

Thank you, Kelly! Kudos for your courage to save these six shotgun houses. Keep us posted on your project progress.