Grand opening of The Lofts at the Roberts in Muncie IN

Affordable housing for 55 and over in DWNTWN

By Rick Yencer

MUNCIE, INDIANA (NEWS) - Dorothy Sweet recalled working at the old Roberts Hotel when she attended the former Central High School down the street in the 1960s.

She and friend were among more than 100 people who came to the grand opening of the Lofts at Roberts on Wednesday to take a look at new apartments and public areas that bring more people downtown.

Miller Valentine Group of Cincinnati, recently opened the property and have 30 apartments occupied out of more than 80, according to property managers.

A large group of public officials attended the event that included the traditional ribbon cutting for a project was was literally years in the making.

The last city administration provided $1.2 million in funding to developers, and Mayor Dennis Tyler pledged more to guarantee the apartments would be built. State and federal housing funds also went toward to affordable housing project that brings new life to the hotel built in 1925 and left abandoned nearly a decade ago.

In that time, Todd Donati, director of the Muncie Redevelopment Commission, worked with developer Pete Schwiegeraht, developer for Miller Valentine, continued to meet and work out financing and development of the property.

Miller Valentine invested about $7 million into the hotel that has been repeatedly renovated and reused over its storied history. The construction alone crated over 125 jobs for contractors besides suppliers and other businesses locally.

Donati said the floor level of the old hotel would be a business incubator besides space for other business.

Some residents who talked about the comfort and amenities of the apartments also thought a grocery or some retail should be considered in a building where more than 100 people could live.

Roger Hayes, one resident, said he always wanted to live downtown and found the apartments affordable and comfortable.

He even said trains did not bother him that much as train whistles are common with the five crossings downtown.

The city is working on a quiet zone to muffle that noise, but it could be costly to close crossings and rebuild others to silence whistles.

Besides the city administrators, Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, Senate minority leader,Lt. Gov. Sue Ellespermann, and Congressman Luke Messer also were on hand to talk about the latest private-public partnership.

Ellespermann said the state was glad to lend housing funds for the project and had $75 million to help remove blighted property from local communities. 

"Housing is such an important part of a community," she said.

Besides the apartment project, the city also is building an $8 million parking garage next to the Horizon Convention Center to accommodate the new Courtyard by Marriott breaking ground across from the Roberts.

The new hotel and parking garage should pen in 2015 in time for the city's 150th anniversary.