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Historic Commission signs off on downtown lofts

By Tia Lyons
This article was published December 15, 2017 at 5:00 a.m.

Lofts on Main is the newest, upper-floor residential development project that is planned for Downtown El Dorado, which encompasses the city’s commercial historic district.

After a lengthy discussion Thursday, the El Dorado Historic District Commission signed off on two Certificates of Appropriateness for demolition and new construction at 215 E. Main.

The existing building — which is known as the (Social) Security Building, was originally the Ritz Theater and most recently housed Pat’s Glass — will be razed, and a new three-story building will go up in its place, with plans for a mix of commercial and residential space.

Blake Dunn, of CADM Architecture, Inc., said CADM and property owner and Virginia-based real estate developer Pete Dunn (no relation to Blake Dunn) initially pursued and were granted a COA to convert the existing building, but a structural analysis showed that such improvements would not be feasible.

With the addition of the residential units, the building would have to meet applicable building and fire codes, Blake Dunn told commissioners.

He also said the masonry wall, which is shielded by a brick slipcover, is deteriorating and is not reinforced.

“We would have to put in a steel, structural skeleton for the interior. It would have made rehabilitation impractical and unfeasible,” Blake Dunn said.

“Pete Dunn made the decision not to pursue it, but he still wanted to improve that entrance point into downtown and into the historic district,” he continued.

Blake Dunn explained that the plan-use has not changed for the project, for which a COA was initially approved in January 2016.

The proposed work still calls for 2,500 square feet (500 of which will be taken up by building and fire suppression systems) of first-floor retail space and five extended-stay, corporate units on the second and third floors.

In a written statement, Pete Dunn said the footprint of the new building will mirror the layout of the existing building.

“It will be harmonious to the downtown area, and I believe, architecturally, it will be a far better structure than what was originally proposed,” Blake Dunn told historic district commissioners.

There will be two entrances off Main Street, one each for the retail and living spaces.

The entrance to the lofts will lead to a small lobby near the staircase and then to a corridor that will direct visitors to the upper floors.

Windows will open up the northern and eastern facades for all three levels of the building, Blake Dunn said.

He said the window frames will be aluminum, and the glass will be modern, insulated and lightly tinted — similar to the glass that was installed in the Griffin Building two blocks south in Murphy Arts District.

Construction crews will also brace the west wall, which runs aside the adjoining building.

Elizabeth Eggleston, executive director of the EHDC, said she has spoken with the El Dorado Fire Department, who expressed concern about the demolition and the safety of the adjoining building.

“(Fire Chief Chad Mosby) said that wall will have to be safely taken down,” Eggleston said.

Commissioner Dick James asked if the new building will have a basement like the existing building, and Dunn said no.

Eggleston inquired about privacy and security for guests in the residential units, and Blake Dunn said the units will come with motorized draperies that will operate by remote control.

Guests will also have keypad access to the building.

An enclosed fire escape will lead to the alley behind the building, Blake Dunn said.

The 1920s – 40s-era building is a non-contributing structure within the commercial historic district, meaning that it contributes little to the character of the commercial historic district.

Commissioner reviewed design guidelines pertaining to new construction and demolition within the commercial historic district.

Commissioner Linda Rathbun noted that windows on upper levels should emphasize the walls and not the glass, per the design guidelines.

Blake Dunn said the existing building has been gutted, save the floors, joists and other support structures.

Demolition could begin in January and take three weeks to a month to complete, he said.

“The goal is for construction to be completed in less than a year. Ideally, it would be completed by October (2018) event in downtown,” Blake Dunn said.

Pete Dunn has helmed several restoration projects in El Dorado, including the El Dorado Federal Center and the Armstrong Building, which houses PJ’s Coffee and the El Dorado Creamery.

He has approached the EHDC for COAs for the restoration projects.

“It will be no less than what you have come to expect from Pete Dunn,” Blake Dunn told commissioners.

“My goal is to continue to help El Dorado grow and prosper,” Pete Dunn wrote in statement. “With the opening of the Murphy Arts District and other investment in El Dorado, we see these short-term residential units as a significant addition to help make El Dorado more attractive to visitors.”

Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or tlyons@ eldoradonews.com.

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