Makeover transforms city high-rise apartment building

By Steve Urbon

NEW BEDFORD — Walk into a vacant and not-yet-renovated apartment in the Regency Tower at 800 Pleasant St. and it is apparent why this high-rise needed a makeover.

The walls are scarred, the light fixture in the dining area is broken and mold is growing on the ceiling where water infiltrated during rainstorms.

But there are few of these left; construction crews have completed about 75 percent of the rehabilitation of the 22-year-old Regency, the tallest building in SouthCoast and a problem almost since the day it was built.

That means installing new heating and air conditioning units in every apartment, repairing walls and reflooring, installing new appliances and fixtures — the works.
But most of all it means replacing most of the red brick facing on the exterior walls. Seven years ago, it became apparent that water was damaging the bricks, and an engineering report said there was a danger that the bricks could separate from the inner wall and go crashing to the ground.

No bricks actually fell, but the scare virtually emptied the building, and for seven years protective scaffolding has shielded pedestrians from the possibility of the worst happening.

The few tenants who have remained in the building are being transferred to newly refurbished apartments so workers can get into every unit. And by the year’s end, property manager Glenn Nirenberg said, the building should be move-in ready for all 129 apartments, including six new ones in the 16th-floor penthouse, which formerly was offices.

Rents will start at $845 to just over $2,000 for the biggest penthouse, on the east side facing the harbor.

Passers-by cannot fail to notice the enormous $1.3 million crane that was brought in for the project. One day last week it was being used to hoist air conditioning units to the roof. Soon it will be hauling away the roof itself, a rubber membrane held in place by egg-sized rocks. A new roof ought to end the problems with leaks, as will a new exterior.

Most of the unstable brick exterior walls have been stripped of brick down to the fifth floor. (The lower sections were in good shape, Nirenberg said.) In place of the brick, workers are installing a new layered surface that will channel water safely away from the interior walls.

When installation is complete, it will be possible to remove the unsightly scaffolding.

The Regency project was announced with great fanfare in January by Gov. Deval Patrick as a way to maintain some low-income housing (43 units are set aside for low- and moderate-income tenants) and repair a dangerous eyesore in the center of the city.

The $30 million project is being refinanced with a combination of state and federal housing credits and $4.5 million in state and federal gap financing, which leveraged another $10.6 million.

Nirenberg said there have been a number of serious inquiries, especially for the penthouse apartments, which today are little more than a maze of framing and tall windows.

Steve Urbon is senior correspondent of The Standard-Times.
August 19, 2010 12:00 AM

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