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Karcher Artspace Lofts to be move-in ready by December

Julie Wendt (left) Waukegan Kris Seegren Beach Park decorate 3rd floor apartment Karcher Artspace Lofts located 405 WashingtStreet Waukegan. |

Julie Wendt (left) of Waukegan and Kris Seegren of Beach Park decorate a 3rd floor apartment at the Karcher Artspace Lofts located at 405 Washington Street in Waukegan. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 24, 2012 6:05AM

WAUKEGAN — The finish line is in sight for the Karcher Artspace Lofts renovation on Washington Street, with project boosters moving furniture into finished apartments last week to showcase them for prospective tenants at the ArtWauk on Saturday.

While project manager Sarah Swingley said there is no firm opening date for the 36-unit complex designed for artists and their families, “people are going to start moving in (by) December” and the redevelopment is roughly 80 percent complete.

“It’s hard to say, and people want to know an exact date, but it has to be December because of our tax credits,” said Swingley, referring to the $9.23 million in funding from the Illinois Housing Development Authority. She added that terms of the financing package, which is intended to provide housing for low-income tenants, require that the Karcher be fully leased by the end of February.

According to Swingley, the project’s total cost will come in at around $14.5 million after starting with a $12.5 million estimate nearly two years ago. She said that the difference is being addressed with contributions like $175,000 in Affordable Housing Program (AHP) funds from Lake County and anticipated historic tax credits from the federal government.

One of the cost overruns was aired at the Oct. 15 City Council meeting, when aldermen voted 6-3 to approve a $150,000 payment to the project’s lead contractor, Pepper Construction, to install a new sidewalk on the Karcher’s north side.

The amount, being drawn from a downtown tax-increment financing district that is being closed out, will fill in a vault under the current sidewalk that city officials say has allowed water to seep into the building. Among those voting against the plan was 6th Ward Ald. Larry TenPas, who said he wanted to see the project go through a bid process and questioned the city’s involvement.

“It’s their building. Why am I going to pay for (the sidewalk)?” TenPas added. “No wonder we’re having financial problems.”

Mayor Robert Sabonjian explained that the city would likely have to repair the sidewalk in the future in any event, and said “none of us were happy about this. But if we don’t do it, the project gets delayed.”

The Artspace project has also faced criticism beyond the added expenditures. Earlier this fall, Brotha Chris Blanks, founding president of the National Action Network of Lake County and the Black Abolition Movement for the Mind, went before the council to express concern that the project didn’t appear to be promoting minority hiring at the job site.

“Artspace started out, and it looked like there would be some inclusion there,” Blanks told the council on Sept. 17. “Today, there were 14 construction workers, and out of those 14 construction workers, there were 13 whites, one female and not a single African American coming out of that job site. ... Somewhere, somebody’s dropping the ball on the enforcement of inclusion of these (hiring) policies.”

First Ward Ald. Sam Cunningham told the City Council last week that from his observations, there “still (are) no local people on that project,” and he told Mayor Robert Sabonjian that “you couldn’t find ways to get some our people (construction) jobs.”

“It irks me when I drive past that lot full of people who don’t live here (and) there’s nobody from the city of Waukegan — not a black, a white, a male, a female, Latino, nobody,” added Cunningham, though he did say he feels the Artspace renovation is “one of the finest projects our city has ever had.”

Swingley responded to the criticisms over hiring by saying that Artspace “did our due diligence in reaching out” to local contractors, but no Waukegan-based businesses survived the competitive bidding process.

“We are required — because we have state and federal funding — to (award) contracts to the lowest qualified bidder,” Swingley said. “We purposefully reached out to numerous Waukegan trades, but their bids would come in too high. They weren’t the lowest quality bidder, and we don’t have a choice when it comes to that.”

Swingley added that in one case, Artspace worked with an African-American business group to draw interest on a subcontract for window treatments, but the ensuing bid came in $5,000 over the lowest qualified bid.

Swingley said she wanted the public to know that Minneapolis-based Artspace Projects Inc., which started with a $1.2 million management fee, will walk away from the Karcher renovation with $150,000.

“The rest of it, we’re putting into the project,” she said. “We don’t want people to think we we aren’t putting everything into the project.”

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