In its heyday, Lion Knitting Mills established a reputation for making wool military goods, and later sweaters for the consumer market.
The 1919 factory at 3256 W. 25th St. in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood sat vacant after Lion Knitting Mills closed its doors in 1990, until the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization (DSCDO) bought the 52,000-square-foot building and began converting it into affordable loft-style apartments in 2016.
The Lofts at Lion Mills, due to be completed by the beginning of September, will soon be 21 one-bedroom and 15 two-bedroom apartments that pay homage to the building’s history.
“They have exposed brick, big windows, high ceilings and columns” says Anya Kulcsar, director of real estate development for DSCDO. “It has all of those character-defining elements you find in older [industrial] buildings.”
Additionally, Kulcsar says many of the units have the original wood ceilings, and the original dumbwaiter, elevator shaft and safe are prominent in the common areas. “We’ve retained that element,” she says.
The latest step in the renovations occurred on Friday, April 28, with the hoisting of a water tank tower onto the roof the building. The tank was originally used as the fire suppression system for the factory — using gravity to run the sprinklers in case of a fire.
The new tower is a replica of the original wood tower, which workers discovered had rotted away and was not salvageable.
“Because it did not have water in it, the wood dried out and shrank, which led it to become unstable,” Kulcsar explains, adding that the new one is made of metal. “We’re happy to have this icon for the W. 25th Corridor. It’s iconic and serves as a wayfinding element.”
While DSCDO tried to preserve the historic essence of the building, there are modern highlights as well.
“There are all new mechanics and windows, and we did a tear off on the roof and installed a new one,” Kulcsar says.
The renovation is now about 75 percent complete, Kulcsar says. Workers are installing the wood cabinets, laminate counters in the kitchen and vinyl plank flooring throughout each unit, while delivery of the appliances is expected this week.
The Lofts at Lion Mills will have on-site laundry facilities property management offices. The building also features a large lobby.
“We’re beginning to see what the apartments are going to look like,” Kulcsar says.
The DSCDO received Cleveland low-income housing tax credits, funding through the Ohio Housing Finance Agency and financing through PNC Bank on the $10.7 million project, which is designed to offer more affordable housing in the neighborhood — an important mission of the DSCDO.
“We have 300 units of affordable housing in the Detroit Shoreway, and much of it is around W. 65th Street,” Kulcsar explains. “This project is our first investment in the Metro West neighborhood.”
MetroHealth’s investment in Clark-Fulton and support for the project also was a big help, Kulcsar says. “MetroHealth’s investment really transformed that area,” she observes. “They were a big promoter and supporter and helped us get funded.”
Rents will range between $250 and $715 a month, depending on unit size, household size and income level, according to Kulcsar, who adds that the Lofts mark the DSCDO’s commitment to keep up with the number of market rate apartment projects in the area.
“We’re really passionate about maintaining mixed income housing so everyone can live in the Detroit Shoreway,” Kulcsar says. “We want to make sure everyone’s given a nice place to live and we don’t want to differentiate between affordable housing and other housing.”
Kulcsar says they hope to begin taking lease applications in June, close leases in the end of August and have the Lofts at Lion Mills ready for move-ins by the beginning of September.