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Renovation gives 1920s Savannah apartment building new future

From the street, it’s hard to miss the transformation happening at the building on the corner of Maupas Avenue and Habersham Street. Over recent months, its worn, peeling orange exterior has been replaced with crisp white stucco.

Inside the large apartment house, the renewal is even more evident.

“We’re still finishing up as you can see, but it’s close to being done,” said Heath Shelton of Fortitude Design, who acquired the apartment building in 2015 with business partner Michael Kirven.

Originally known as the Williams Apartments and later as Tomo-Chi-Chi Apartments, the building was constructed in the early 1920s to house employees of a nearby dairy. Although listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing resource to the Thomas Square Streetcar National Register Historic District, the building had fallen into disrepair in recent years.

Since September crews have been working to renovate the building — which includes eight 1,200-square foot units with two-bedrooms, one-bath and bonus sun rooms — to bring it into the 21st century while still maintaining its unique Savannah history.

“We deal with these unique properties in order to create substance within the neighborhood,” said Shelton

“I think that this project is going to be great for the neighborhood.”

The renovation included getting rid of a communal laundry room at the rear of the building and adding stacked washer and dryer units to each apartment, new interior and exterior lighting, re-tiling the hallways and Habersham Street facing courtyard and lots of fresh paint.

The building was also upgraded with all electric components and appliances and window units were replaced with high efficiency central heating and air systems.

The bathrooms, which featured outdated fixtures and crumbling tile floors, were completely remodeled to include expansive showers and new title work. The kitchens, which featured little or no cabinet or counter space, were gutted and replaced with new counter tops, cabinets, flooring and appliances.

“The (layouts) stayed to what was original. We just took the fabric that was here and enhanced it,” he said.

“We didn’t change anything. The only thing we added was one closet in a bedroom because it didn’t have one.”

The building also comes with a few unique extras, including a gated off street parking lot and third floor storage units, which are designated for each apartment and equipped with electricity.

“Each unit gets their own studio space in the attic. They can have it as storage or an art room,” Shelton said.

“This was all walled off and they were full of stuff, so I opened this whole section up and realized what it was. We tied all the electricity to each unit, so they get their own space.”

It will also be equipped with a state of the art fire alarm system and smart technology, which will allow residents to access security cameras and other features via a mobile app.

“The entire building is on smart technology, so this is like the brains of the building. It actually communicates to everyone on their smart phones,” Shelton said of an interior closet which houses various tech equipment.

The building, which will be managed by Judge Realty, is also in a prime location near the emerging Starland District and several local eateries including Al Salamm Deli and Green Truck Pub.

“If you like burgers, you’re in a good spot,’ Shelton said.

Shelton declined to disclose the total cost of the renovation, but said the biggest challenge was the overall condition of the building. While it hadn’t undergone any real physical changes or build-outs since it was added to the National Register in 1997, it had acquired a lot of grime and cosmetic damage over the years.

“It was a lot worse than we thought it was going to be,” he said.

“When we got in, we didn’t realize we were going to have to do as much as we ended up doing.”

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