Armory Park Apartments Will Get a New Glass Face: Call it The Herbert

March 15, 2013

by Teya Vitu

Funny how the same space can serve low-income senior citizens for nearly 40 years and then, one-year later, welcome jet-setting empty nesters and the young urban-oriented generation.

That’s the intention, at any rate, for the former Armory Park Apartments, 211 S. 5th Ave.

These were the Armory Park Apartments. They are getting converted into The Herbert.

These were the Armory Park Apartments. They are getting converted into The Herbert.

Last summer, about 130 low-income seniors lived there before moving to the new Sentinel Plaza on West Congress Street in September.

Some time this summer, the 1973 structure will have a new look, new appliances, new fixtures, new windows, a new demographic niche and a new name: The Herbert, named for the little-used street along the building’s east side.

The former Armory Park Apartments already have new owners. Holualoa Companies and Peach Properties acquired the eight-story, 144-unit structure on Dec. 6, 2012.

“The two largest demographics now are people over 55 – empty nesters – and Gen Y,” said Anne Lawrence, asset manager at Holualoa. “That is a market that is underserved with housing. Empty nesters might want to rent space for the weekend. There is an emerging market for seniors renting apartments in two different cities.”

They will have The Herbert for consideration.

The fit is for the minimalist. The 106 studio apartments offer about 450 square feet and the 38 one-bedroom units measure about 600 square feet.

“You have to think beyond the traditional living situation,” Lawrence said. “You’re 55. You retired. You have a choice. You could have a house. Or for half that, you can have a studio apartment in a couple of cities. It’s an emerging demographic.”

Test windows on the bottom row show how The Herbert will have floor to ceiling windows and look like a glass wall from the outside.

Test windows on the bottom row show how The Herbert will have floor to ceiling windows and look like a glass wall from the outside.

The former Armory Park Apartments right now are getting stripped down to the concrete bones. They will be built back up as the market-rate The Herbert.

What does that mean?

The apartments Holualoa and Peach bought still had 1970s stoves and ovens, popcorn ceilings and pressboard kitchen cabinets with Formica counters. The carpeting was used, to say the least, and the flooring rather outdated. Bathtubs and toilets were just as dated.

The new kitchens will have maple cabinets, durable Corian counters, microwave ovens above the stoves, and one-bedroom units will get dishwashers. The new bathrooms get new toilets and walk-in showers.

From inside and out, the most notable transformation will be with the windows.

As is, the structure has a bit of an institutional look with three-foot-high bulging bulkheads between the windows on each level. Inside, that means the windows sit on a waist-high wall.

The existing window scheme will be scrapped in favor of floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows for all apartments, which have higher-than-average 9-foot-high ceilings. From the outside, The Herbert essentially will have a glass wall.

A couple test windows on the 12th Street side give a small sense of this window wall future.

Ron Schwabe and Anne Lawrence are in one of the new kitchens that will be installed in all the apartments.

Ron Schwabe and Anne Lawrence are in one of the new kitchens that will be installed in all the apartments.

“You take out the stucco bulkheads, that makes a huge difference,” said Ron Schwabe, owner of Peach Properties along with his wife, Patricia. “How can you modify the building to give a whole new look? Here it’s windows.”

Schwabe has an innate passion for Downtown Tucson history, be it 40 years or 100 years ago. He partnered with Williams & Dame to redevelop the old Martin Luther King Jr. Apartments into the One North Fifth Apartments. Schwabe noted Armory Park and MLK had the same architect.

Peach also owns the 119 E. Toole Ave. warehouse that houses Borderlands Brewing, the 1 E. Toole warehouse once known as Zee’s Warehouse, the Old Market Inn building now home to EXO Roast Co., the 299 S. Park Ave. building in the Lost Barrio with the Peach Properties office and Tooley’s Café, and 17 small apartment complexes scattered near Downtown.

“There’s a real strong demand for residential,” Schwabe said.

Holualoa bought the 11-story Pioneer Building in 2005 and added the blue tilted façade building (US Bank) at 1 E. Congress St. in 2007. Holualoa owns nine apartment complexes around Tucson but none have the urban dimensions of The Herbert.

“We own mid-rise apartment buildings in other cities,” said Mike Kasser, president of Holualoa, which has its headquarters on Skyline Road. “I’ve always looked at mid-rise apartment buildings and the dearth of them in this city.”

With other Holualoa offices in Phoenix, Hawaii, Paris and Geneva, Switzerland, Kasser has come to understand what appeals to empty nesters and young singles in the early 21st century.

“If people had walkability, where they can walk and have stores and buy stuff, the whole thing gets denser,” Kasser said. “People like that, especially younger people and older people. Older people don’t want to live in the boonies. It’s a type of living a lot of people like.”

The Herbert will look like this when done.

The Herbert will look like this when done.

About nine months ago, Schwabe and Kasser attended a reception at the University of Arizona Downtown at Stone Avenue and Pennington Street. Afterward, Schwabe took Kasser for a walk around the east end of Downtown and got to the property Schwabe owns at Broadway and 5th Avenue. They wandered the one block south to the Armory Park Apartments, then still inhabited by senior citizens.

“He knew more about it and brought it to my attention,” Kasser said. “When we found out this property would become available, a light bulb went off. Let’s do it.”

Schwabe was of an equal mind.

“We talked about stuff. This came up. We decided to take a run at it,” Schwabe.

Chicago-based Senior Housing Group bought the Armory Park Apartments in 2011 with the intention of transferring the federal Section 8 low-income housing subsidies to the new Sentinel Plaza apartments on West Congress. Once the seniors moved from Armory Park to Sentinel Plaza, Senior Housing Group put the Armory Park Apartments on the market.

A living room at The Herbert. The window will be floor to ceiling.

A living room at The Herbert. The window will be floor to ceiling.

The Herbert is the first co-ownership, co-development project for Peach and Holualoa, but both find the partnership ideal. Peach is taking the lead on the construction side, but Schwabe would rather blur the lines for what roles each entity is playing.

“It’s very collaborative,” Schwabe said.

Kasser added that Schwabe and Lawrence make a good team.

“We like to partner,” Kasser said. “We’re not developers. (Schwabe) has strong experience Downtown. He and Anne Lawrence work well together. Anne brings a lot to the table. She’s an ex-contractor.”

Lawrence certainly is familiar with the Armory Park Apartments and the surrounding neighborhood. She chaired the Armory Park Neighborhood Association Board several times over the past 30 years.

“There’s a huge market for people who want to be down here but not right on top of the streetcar,” Lawrence said. “You feel like you’re in the neighborhood. Could you imagine sitting up on the eighth floor and watching the monsoon come in? You can have monsoon parties.”

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