CHI hosts groundbreaking ceremony for Sunset Apartments

Wednesday, May 30, 2018
The Sunset Apartments groundbreaking was conducted with (left to right) Scott Fitzpatrick, vice president at Midwest Housing Equity Group; Sid Fitch, vice president of commercial lending with Farmers Trust & Savings Bank; Lee Schoenewe, CHI board chairman; Kris Illg, CHI construction director; Kevin Robinson, Spencer mayor; U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron; and Steve Eggleston, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development field office director, all shoveling a piece of earth out of the site planned to house storage units for the apartment complex.
Photos by Randy M. Cauthron

Sunset Retirement Home, at 118 E. 21st St. in Spencer has been home to area seniors in Spencer since 1965. The complex has recently been acquired by Community Housing Initiatives and will soon be updated to better serve and continue to serve its senior residents, being renamed Sunset Apartments. The groundbreaking ceremony for the complex’s new renovations and future construction was conducted by a number of key figures, including U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron; Spencer Mayor Kevin Robinson and CHI Construction Director Kris Illg, among others. Many area business professionals, government officials, community members and residents were also in attendance.

“The property was built in three phases,” said Matt Hauge, director of communications at CHI. “The elevators are reaching the end of their useful life and so are a lot of the mechanical systems behind the scenes. They just need to be replaced, and those are big ticket items that for one property to finance is very, very difficult.”

The construction and renovation involved in the apartment complex’s rehabilitation will include 100 percent of the building and apartment units being renovated. The complex currently houses 101 units, but CHI officials said renovations will drop the total unit number down to 91 to allow the many seniors who reside in the apartments additional space. On the east side of the property, storage units will be built to accommodate residents who are transitioning from a house to their apartments.

U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, speaks to Sunset Apartments residents, government officials, and area business professionals, thanking all who were involved in helping the Sunset Apartments renovations move forward.

Before ground could be broken on the project, the renovations and ownership of the complex went through an arduous regulatory process. Solving the regulatory challenges required the cooperation and assistance of many local and state organizations, as well as all levels of government before it could progress further.

“The first challenge of course is putting together the funding for this, that happened last year,” Hauge said. “What the trouble is, the government thinks of (the facility) as three separate (housing) projects, and the result of that is, they all had different mortgages and overlapping financing. There had to be a lot of adjustments made and even a waiver granted to allow the property to be put into one basket and sold to CHI so that we could take it over and renovate it. That’s a significant challenge, but if you’re going to maintain a project like this and keep it going, it’s essential.”

Referenced alongside Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley in alleviating the regulatory challenges facing the renovation by CHI, King thanked his staff, notably Zach Whiting and Andrea Easter, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for their work bringing the possibility of renovations to fruition.

CHI Board Chairman Lee Schoenewe (right) and CHI Construction Director Kris Illg detailed the project and their excitement to see it move forward to a crowd gathered inside Sunset Apartments.

“There was a frustration — a couple of regulations were standing in the way,” King said. “When those regulations reared their ugly head, sometimes you have to find a way to cut some red tape.”

The congressman thanked all of the parties involved for getting the renovations on track, saying any future projects would “have a smoother path,” due to the network created in facilitating the project.

King and CHI Board Chairman Lee Schoenewe shared their excitement regarding groundbreaking of the complex’s new renovations.

“We’re really happy,” Schoenewe said. “This facility has been serving deserving residents here in Spencer for a long, long time. It is going to get a second life. CHI is going to be part of that, and the board is really happy that it’s come together.”

“One of the things that makes it feel so good is to see all of the faces of the people that came together here for the ceremony today,” King said. “When you see that broad of buy in, that means it’s a community supported project and it’s needed. ... We’re in this business to help people. Nothing makes you feel better than to solve problems that arise. When we can do that, then it’s a good feeling, it’s a success.”

Funding for the necessary work is listed by CHI as being through the Iowa Finance Authority’s housing tax credit program, senior revolving loan fund program and the Federal Home Loan Bank, with the property also receiving a $10,000 community betterment grant from the Clay County Community Foundation in April. Work on the property will begin immediately, with an estimated construction completion date of 2019.

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