ST. JOHNS, Mich. — The Wilson Center on Cass Street in St. Johns opened as a school in 1925. Nearly 100 years later, a local developer has plans to convert what were once classrooms into new apartments and more.
"We closed this building approximately a year ago, and since then, we've engaged our architects and our engineers and explored different use possibilities for the building," developer Jeff Deehan, principal of Dymaxion Development, said. "It's most likely now to look like a mixed-use building that includes a multi-generational housing component and potentially an office component."
About half of the 100,000-square-foot building will become 50 apartment units.
"The city of St. Johns is booming right now," Deehan said. "There's tons of new employment and there's very little housing."
St. Johns Mayor Eric Hufnagel agreed.
"That's something the community needs and has needed for some time," Hufnagel said.
The historic building will keep its name, but that's not all.
"It's a big priority of ours to preserve the public spaces in the building, which include a really beautiful auditorium and a gymnasium that is pretty heavily used by the public currently," Deehan said.
"We use the gymnasium for recreational programming," Hufnagel said. "There's the Clinton County Arts Council, actually, that manage the auditorium. So, we're looking at some kind of a partnership to be able to continue the community access and utilization of that part of the building."
What was once the principal's office could become the new home of the city of St. Johns offices.
"It's a pretty good fit for them, pretty close to where they currently are, and it would connect the city to some of these public uses that I had previously mentioned, and, hopefully, we're really looking for ways to preserve those two assets for the community of St. Johns for a very long time in the future, and working directly with the city is a really good way to do that," Deehan said.
Hufnagel said the city is considering it, but they are still in the exploratory phase.
"We're taking a look to see whether or not, first of all, it meets our needs as far as space goes and everything," Hufnagel said. "We're going to look at the dollars and cents on it and see if that's something that indeed we want to move forward with."
Deehan said it's about a $10 million project. Environmental remediation on the building could start as soon as this summer, and from there, the project will take about two years to complete.
Mayor Hufnagel said, no matter if the city moves their offices there, the Wilson Center is a gem they want to see restored.
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