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Revamped hotel key to Muncie revitalization efforts

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The former Roberts Hotel in downtown Muncie has had more than a few lives since it was built in 1921.

It's been an old-school hotel, a decaying building, a reinvigorated downtown landmark after an addition was built in the 1980s and a dark and empty hulk after it closed in October 2006.

But now the building looks new again. The Lofts at Roberts apartments, the result of a $17 million renovation project by Cincinnati developer Miller Valentine Group, is ready for another life.

After more than a year of construction that saw the old structure gutted and 83 new apartments built, the Lofts at Roberts will reopen this month as housing for income-eligible people 55 and older.

For anyone who hasn't seen the building in recent years, the difference will be startling. The familiar lobby looks much the same but has been repaired and painted. The second-floor ballroom, home to many meetings of Rotary Club and election night political gatherings, is a community room.

Up through the seventh floor, the 120-plus hotel rooms are gone, replaced by 83 one- and two-bedroom apartments. Because of the unique configuration of the historic old building and the 1980s addition, 27 floor plans are available.

But all the apartments have rich-looking, dark, laminate floors and kitchen appliances that are balanced by a lot of natural light streaming in through the windows.

As impressive as the outcome might be, the process wasn't trouble-free.

"It certainly has been and is a complicated and challenging project," Pete Schwiegeraht, developer at Miller Valentine, told The Star Press. "It included more than nine layers of financing from eight different sources. It really did take a comprehensive effort of federal, state, local and private dollars to get it done. We're very happy with the way things went and the city's assistance."

Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler said he was pleased the project was nearing completion and ready for new downtown residents.

"I'm excited about it," Tyler said. "It's going to be beautiful. It's going to be a great addition to our downtown."

In recent weeks, Tyler and other officials have announced other downtown projects near the Roberts, including The Arc of Indiana's teaching hotel, which will be a Courtyard by Marriott, as well as a proposed city parking garage. All are near the Horizon Convention Center.

"With that corridor we're creating, all of that is going to enhance that area around Canan Commons and the convention center."

The Lofts at Roberts project was crucial in securing a new downtown hotel project. As long as it was possible that the Roberts might re-open as a hotel, potential developers were cautious about building a new hotel downtown.

Miller Valentine received — in addition to Muncie's contribution of more than $250,000 in facade restoration funding — $16 million in federal housing tax credits. The Lofts at Roberts' age and income guidelines are based on that tax credit.

Nearly one third of the Roberts' 83 apartments have been pre-leased, Miller Valentine district manager Keir Morris said this week.

Miller Valentine has plans for an open house to show off the facility on a still-to-be-announced date in June.

Mid-to-late June is also the period when construction is expected to be complete on first-floor space in the Roberts building owned by the city. Some of the 10,000-plus square feet is likely to be filled by entrepreneur-oriented business space and a local agency for the aging population.

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