Loft living: Downtown apartments bring new life to Russellville
When Kayla Hall, 25, finally ends her busy workday as an emergency room nurse, she loves to come home and lounge on her balcony, watching the sunrise or sunset. With her “roommate and child,” a Siamese cat named Stinky, she enjoys spending time in her upscale, industrial-modern loft apartment, featuring all new stainless-steel appliances, restored original hardwood floors and trendy interior construction.
Hall is one of just a few tenants to call downtown Russellville home.
The first of their kind in Russellville, the Reed Building loft apartments at 110 Jackson Ave., first opened in June 2017, bringing a unique downtown living opportunity. The apartments were designed, constructed and leased by Made in USA Properties – a business partnership between Russellville Mayor David Grissom and Franklin County Commissioner Chris Wallace.
When Grissom first began efforts toward the revitalization of downtown Russellville, he soon envisioned loft apartments in the second story of downtown businesses. Once new zoning guidelines were established downtown to permit loft apartments, he said it was time to put his money where his mouth was.
“Downtown is the heartbeat of every community,” Grissom said. “Successful cities have always kept downtown as the heartbeat of the community. I knew we had good bones downtown. Nice churches, law offices, the post office – we had a good core to our downtown area, we just had some areas that needed attention.”
In late 2016 Wallace and Grissom purchased what was once Reed’s General Store – Grissom’s great-uncle’s store. “It was a neat thing to find out that history and about my kinfolks,” said Grissom. They began to renovate, with a dream of developing two apartments on the second floor, above retail space on the first floor. They saw it as a challenge – and decided they were up to the task. “We both enjoy challenges. When someone tells you it won’t work, it makes us work harder to make sure that it does,” Grissom said.
With a can-do attitude, it wasn’t long before their dream became a reality. The one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartments were the result of a top-down building renovation, including an all-new roof, plumbing, wiring and windows. The heart pine floors were refinished, and the beautiful original brickwork was left exposed, a complement to the exposed ductwork that gives the apartment that industrial feel.
By the time Grissom and Wallace were ready to open the new apartments, they had already managed to lease them both – one of them, the “back apartment” facing the alley, to Hall.
Originally from this area, the 2011 Tharptown graduate was looking to move back home but having trouble finding a place she wanted to live. With a job offer from Russellville Hospital on the table, Hall said she needed to find a place quickly. That’s when someone told her about the new downtown lofts.
It was love at first sight. “They reminded me of really swanky apartments I have seen before in Nashville and more up-and-coming cities,” said Hall. “They were rustic but modern at the same time.” She toured the apartment one morning, signed a lease the same day and moved in the last weekend of July 2017.
“I was very excited to be closer to my family, closer to the church I was active in before I moved, and I was really happy that I was five minutes from work,” said Hall. She describes the apartment as having a modern feel but with the character that can only come when a place is steeped in history. “When you first walk in, the first thing I notice is the exposed brick,” said Hall. She also values the high ceilings – “it makes it feel super huge when you walk in” – the beautiful cabinetry, exposed duct work, granite countertops and, of course, the restored original floors. “They have scratches in them and stains and little holes, so they are very characterized, and it just fits,” Hall said. Another feature she likes is “above the counter, the light fixtures have Edison bulbs, the old-fashioned lightbulbs. That caught my eye.”
Hall isn’t the only satisfied tenant living in downtown Russellville. Tyler Lowe, a senior at Mississippi State University, found himself in need of a place to live when he accepted a plant manager internship position at Pilgrims. “We didn’t know anything about Russellville, so we spent two or three weeks trying to find apartments and call places,” said the Jackson, Miss., native. When he and his family connected with Made in USA Properties, Lowe said they knew they had found a gem. “We saw the pictures, and my family and I fell in love with it,” said Lowe. “We said yes, it’s perfect.”
Like Hall, Lowe said he enjoys the proximity of the apartment to his work as well as other amenities, like the post office and downtown businesses. He has an 11-minute commute, “so it’s very convenient, and everything is nice and set up well.” He praised the balcony, which overlooks Jackson Avenue – “It’s nice to come back from work and sit there and look at the town” – as well as the large master bedroom, granite countertops and exposed brick. “It’s just very beautiful.”
The second-story apartments are accessed by a long flight of stairs. Inside, the bedroom is separated from the common area by a partial wall, and a kitchen island creates distinction between the kitchen and living room areas. Countertop stools provide a place to sit at the island and enjoy a meal or conversation.
Although Lowe and roommate Colin Acedo have since returned to school, Lowe said he appreciated the opportunity to call Russellville – a community he found to be safe, quiet and welcoming – home for a short time.
“I’m just grateful for the internship opportunity and to be around so many great people,” said Lowe, who also expressed his appreciation to Grissom for arranging the lease. “He was very kind and welcomed us with open arms.”
Following the success of the Reed Building renovation and with interest in loft living on the rise, Wallace and Grissom immediately took on another remodel. During the Reed Building open house, they started taking notice of a building two doors down – the old “Ed Carter building,” once Carter’s Menswear, which they determined was identical in construction to the Reed Building. It wasn’t long before Made in USA Properties had purchased and remodeled the second downtown building, opening two more apartments – nearly identical to the Reed apartments – for downtown living.
Both Wallace and Grissom saw the purchase and remodel work as an investment opportunity.
“I’ve mostly been involved in new construction. I haven’t done a lot of remodeling, so it was a little different,” said Wallace. “Remodel work costs at least 30 percent more than new construction. It would have been a lot easier to come out here somewhere, buy a lot and build a new set of apartments,” — however, “it was definitely mine and David’s willingness to reinvest in downtown.”
Wallace and Grissom hired a slate of local subcontractors from Russellville and the surrounding area to complete the work on both buildings. They now have a waiting list of people who are interested in leasing the apartments – many of them young professionals. “The new generation, they don’t want anything to take care of – no grass, no shrubs, no nothing,” said Wallace, explaining the interest in downtown loft living. “They want to just come in and do whatever they want. They don’t want anything to maintain.”
Grissom said he thinks the potential for loft apartments is going to be a key attractor for potential investors and developers. The capability means property owners can utilize and optimize the entirety of a building’s square footage, pulling in funding from multiple rental units in one building.
“We all live in the greatest country in the world, and it’s great that two people like Chris and I are able to take a chance on something and go out and put the funding together to make this purchase and make this thing happen,” said Grissom, who called the success a testament to capitalism and American ideals. “It’s exciting to me to live in a country, state and city where you can take a big risk, and God gives us the ability and knowledge to put projects like this together. We feel like we’ve done a positive thing for our city and for our county for a long, long time.”
The downstairs of the Reed Building is leased to Southern Wellness Services. The downstairs of the Ed Carter building is home to Common Cents Clothing. Downstairs, it’s all business. But upstairs, it’s all about the loft living lifestyle.
“I just love my apartment,” said Hall. “It feels like a retreat. It’s the nicest place I’ve ever lived in, and I am proud of it.”
Story by ALISON JAMES
Photos by CHRISTOPHER WEBB