Local developer takes on notorious 525

By Jeremy Warren, The Star Phoenix April 23,2013 - Tyler Stewart plans to refurbish the 7Up advertisement painted on the outside of 525 20th Street West, the notorious apartment building he's redeveloping into affordable housing.

For Stewart, 36, repainting the ad will link the Riversdale building to a vibrant past that has more in common with the neighbourhood's revitalization than the apartment's violent reputation.

"This building's got stupid amounts of character," Stewart said in an interview, referring to the bricks and mortar of the apartment as Stewart recently bought the nearly 100-year-old building and plans to renovate it into 12 units of one-and two-bedroom affordable rental suites, complete with kitchens and bathrooms. He wants to restore and preserve some of the building's historical features, including the now boarded-up warehouse windows and Tyndall stone.

It's an optimistic vision for a building that at its end was overrun by gang members, addicts and squatters. Fire officials shut down the building - 20 suites with a shared bathroom on each floor - in July 2009 due to a variety of health and safety concerns. Death and violence were so common that Saskatoon police had keys to the building, which was the scene of 15 to 20 calls for service per month.

Stewart sees the redevelopment as another landmark project for a neighbourhood that's slowly shedding its troubled past.

"We know the buzz about Riversdale, but are people actually ready to live right on 20th Street?" Stewart said in an interview at the nearby Park Cafe.

Others in the neighbourhood see the project as another sign that Riversdale is able to attract all kinds of investment. New apartments with good management will add to the stability of the area, said Randy Pshebylo, executive director of the Riversdale Business Improvement District.

"It's another piece of the puzzle for that block," Pshebylo said, noting that the 500 block is slated for streetscaping in June.

"It's always been a good location."

The apartment could do for the 500 block of 20th Street West what The Roxy Theatre renovation did for the 300 block, Pshebylo said, noting that Stewart has a record of taking rundown properties and turning them into safe places for responsible tenants.

"It sends a message to the community that not only are the businesses cleaning up, the residential properties are too," he said.

Dave Smith is donating his time to repaint the 7Up ad on the apartment's exterior. His business, The SignSmith, is a few doors down from the apartment. Stewart's project is a welcome addition to the area, he said.

"It's the best thing to happen to this block in years," Smith said. "It all adds up to being a better community."

The exterior of a building is often just as important as the interior, so retaining the 7Up sign - which likely dates back to the 1950s or 1960s - is important, Smith said.

"Once we get it painted, it's a brand new piece of art in the area."

Stewart recently redeveloped a dilapidated apartment at 820 20th Street West, which he considers a successful test run - it's fully occupied - for his affordable rental projects with Stewart Property Holdings.

He makes the projects work financially through government grants for affordable housing projects and some creative planning. He wants to find someone to take over the building's main-floor 4,000 square-foot kitchen and restaurant to help offset the cost of offering affordable rent for the living units.

"Every project is different, but it's about finding the creative opportunities in them," he said.

The 525 project, which could be finished in the fall, needs lots of work - including all-new electrical and plumbing systems - but it's worth the effort, said Stewart, who was an early adopter of the city's Crime Free Multi-housing initiative and is involved with the Housing First Strategy working group.

"If I wanted to make a lot of money real fast, I'd sell condos," Stewart said. "But I'm in this for the long haul. I believe that we're making a difference with affordable rentals. The money will come - maybe not as fast, but that's not my motive." Read more: http://www.thestarphoenix.com/Local+developer+takes+notorious/8280016/story.html#ixzz2RVGrRJ2l

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