By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — An iconic but dormant downtown building will get life as an upscale apartment complex with a high-end restaurant on the first floor.
Ryan Guthrie of Stateside Realty Group has received a permit from City Council to build nine market-rate apartments at 2 Washington St., a four-story building that was home to Haverhill Music Centre for more than half a century until it closed in October of last year.
Guthrie said he has an agreement to buy the building from Robert Killey, who opened the music store in the 1950s.
The building, located in the Washington Street Historic District, will undergo major renovations inside and outside this fall, Guthrie said. He expects it will be ready for occupancy early next summer. The first floor will likely be a “high-end” restaurant, he said.
The project continues the trend of businesses on first floors of downtown buildings and apartments or condominiums on upper floors.
The comeback of downtown in recent years has been marked by more than 500 living units on upper floors of buildings, particularly of old vacant shoe factories. The downtown also has a restaurant district along Washington Street and nearby streets. The restaurant to be built at Guthrie’s building will add to that district.
Michael Migliori, Guthrie’s attorney, said local architect Angelo Petrozzelli has been hired to oversee the renovation and make sure the building is restored to how it looked when it was built in 1882.
Before the building was home to the music center, it was home from 1923 to 1957 to Gus’ Market, which was owned by Augusto Fiorentini, Mayor James Fiorentini’s grandfather. The mayor said his uncle Frank later ran the market from 1957 to 1960.
Guthrie said he plans to spend about $1.6 million rehabilitating the building, including installing a new roof and windows, cleaning the brick exterior and removing the fire escape on the back of the structure.
The council approved the project last week, but not without reservations. Several councilors said they are disappointed Guthrie does not plan to install an elevator for tenants.
“By not putting in an elevator, you are eliminating a segment of the population from living there and that really bothers me,’’ Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien told Guthrie. “And I can’t imagine how tenants on the upper floors are going to get their furniture up there.”
Daly O’Brien said she has taken the stairs to the top of the building and that it’s “a slug of walk.”
Councilors Michael Hart and John Michitson joined Daly O’Brien in asking Guthrie to find a way to put in an elevator.
“I’m going to support you, but this is a severe flaw in your project,” said Michitson, adding that he once worked on the third floor of the building.
Guthrie told councilors he considered installing an elevator, but it would be too expensive. He said he received estimates of around $150,000. He also said installing an elevator is not required under the building code or the Americans with Disability law.
“There are a lot of challenges in renovating an 1882 building and installing an elevator is one of them,” Guthrie said. “People will make their own choice about whether they want to live there. There are plenty of apartments with elevators for people who want that.”
Councilor William Ryan said an elevator would be nice, but that seeing the building redeveloped should be the city’s primary objective.
“This is better that letting it rot away and have someone torch it,” Ryan said.
Guthrie said he has no plans to convert the apartments to condominiums down the line or spin the project off to another developer after receiving approval to build it. He said he has applied to the state for historic tax credits and that the program requires him to hold the property for at least five years.
Migliori said parking for tenants will be in the new parking garage next to the downtown train station. Spaces in the garage will be included in rental agreements for each unit, he said.
“I’m voting for this hesitantly and against my better judgement because you are proposing a beautiful project,” Daly O’Brien told Guthrie. “But if this goes as you expect, you are going to do all right financially. So I’m asking you to step it up and take another look at putting in an elevator.”
The Planing Board and Economic Development Director William Pillsbury endorsed the project prior to the council meeting.
“The proposed project represents an excellent development consistent with all of the goals of the city to revitalize the downtown,” Pillsbury wrote in a memo to the council. “The redevelopment of the former Haverhill Music Centre building into a mixed-use, market-rate project is a strong positive indication of private sector confidence in investing in Haverhill.”