Jaycee Towers in downtown Chattanooga to get $12 million makeover

Jaycee Towers off M.L. King Boulevard is slated for a $12 million upgrade, according to a developer. The apartment building for low-income elderly residents was built in 1970.

Wishrock Housing Partners

A Portland, Me., for-profit entity that invests in affordable housing properties nationwide, it has developed or redeveloped over 11,000 units of affordable apartment housing since the early 1970s.

National Housing Trust

The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit is engaged in housing preservation through public policy advocacy, real estate development, and lending.

A Maine company is planning a $12 million makeover of Jaycee Towers in downtown Chattanooga, where nearly a third of the apartments for the elderly were termed uninhabitable on Tuesday.

Wishrock Housing Partners of Portland, Maine, is joining with the National Housing Trust to buy the 18-story tower at 500 W. M.L. King Blvd. and bring what officials called a much-needed renovation to the structure that opened in 1970.

The Hamilton County Industrial Development Board agreed Tuesday to issue up to $12 million in tax-exempt bonds for the project, which is slated to start early next year and take about 12 months to complete.

Penn Lindsay of Wishrock said the tower that houses low-income seniors is in "poor condition," with only 130 of the 190 apartments occupied.

"The other 60 are basically uninhabitable," he told the panel, citing a leaking roof and windows.

In some units, the ceilings are "literally falling in," Lindsay said.

A new roof, replacing the heat and air-conditioning system, upgrading the elevators and creating a common, community space for residents is planned, he said.

"It will be a full-gut renovation," Lindsay said. "We'll bring it back to a modern facility."

Lindsay said the renovated building will hold fewer units - 175 - as the number of one-bedroom apartments is increased from the existing stock of smaller studios.

He said there's enough vacancy in the tower to perform the work without moving any residents out of the building.

When finished, 83 percent of the units will be used for residents who are at or below 60 percent of the area median income, Lindsay said.

New rents will be comparable to current costs, he said.

Board attorney Ross Schram III said the project is within the panel's scope of authority.

"We've done numerous of these apartments," he said.

Louann Smith, an attorney for Lindsay, said Wishrock and the National Housing Trust are partnering to create River View Housing Associates for the project.

She said neither the board nor the city nor Hamilton County has liability related to the bonds.

"The project can't go forward without the tax-exempt bonds," Smith said.

Lindsay said plans are to also seek property tax breaks through a payment-in-lieu-of-tax agreement from local government for the project.

He said Wishrock focuses on the acquisition of affordable housing and has properties in 19 states.

"This is the kind of project that's right in our niche," Lindsay said.

Jaycee Towers will remain dedicated to senior residents and offer "100 percent affordable" apartments, he said.

Lindsay said the building will be acquired from the nonprofit Jaycee Future Corp.

The Jaycees, or the Junior Chamber, launched construction of the tower as a project to provide low-income housing for the elderly. It was financed through a federal loan.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.