First phase of Lincoln Building restoration to begin soon

A fence has been installed in front of the Lincoln Building in advance of work that’s scheduled to begin in the next few days. Photo by Amanda Morrison, Watertown Daily Times.

A fence has been installed in front of the Lincoln Building in advance of work that’s scheduled to begin in the next few days. Photo by Amanda Morrison, Watertown Daily Times.

WATERTOWN — Much-anticipated renovations will begin soon on the exterior of the now-empty Lincoln Building, the third major project that local officials say will change the downtown landscape forever.

Local real estate investor and developer Brian H. Murray said Thursday the construction portion of the project has been handed over to his partner in the venture, Purcell Construction, Watertown.

A construction fence has been installed in front of the historic landmark at 89-99 Public Square and construction crews should start working on the facade in the next few days.

“We just want to get it started,” Mr. Murray said.

In 2012, Mr. Murray, owner of Washington Street Properties, and Mark S. Purcell, owner of Purcell Construction, purchased the Lincoln Building from a Long Island corporation for $500,000.

Getting the facade restored could make the difference in attracting tenants to the nine storefronts, concluded Richard R. Gefell, Purcell’s director of business development. Unidentified potential tenants have already shown an interest in the building.

“We hope this initial phase will lead to the rebirth of the building,” Mr. Gefell said.

With the focus now on the facade work, the two partners “will reassess” what will happen with the upper floors only after the ground-floor commercial space is occupied, Mr. Murray said.

The upper floors could still be converted into apartments, but that portion of the overall project, first estimated at $12 million, will have to wait until the availability of funding or state affordable housing tax credits, he said.

As part of the $380,000 project, the building’s facade will be restored and one of the five storefronts — the one that once housed a dance studio — will be renovated. Crews will wash and repair the glazed brick exterior, restore the historic curved glass that once was a theater ticket office, and remove some interior walls in that storefront.

To help finance the facade work, the developer was awarded a $200,000 grant from the Watertown Local Development Corp., also known as the Watertown Trust, and $150,000 in Urban Initiatives funding through Neighbors of Watertown Inc. Purcell Construction will provide the remaining $30,000.

Once the facade work is finished, Mr. Murray’s Washington Street Properties will take on the role of property manager and owner, Mr. Gefell said.

The six-story structure also includes commercial space in the basement. Last year, former tenants moved out of the building in preparation for the project.

News of the facade restoration comes at a time when demolition work continues on the $65 million to $70 million redevelopment of the old Mercy Hospital a few blocks away, and a local optician is eyeing the newly renovated Woolworth Building and would become its first tenant.

In recent years, Mr. Murray also acquired the former Rodeway Inn, 652 Arsenal St.; the Solar Building on Franklin Street; the former Hospice Foundation of Jefferson County Inc. building at 425 Washington St.; and a series of apartment complexes in and around the city.

 

By Craig Fox, Times Staff Writer