Lofts in Translation

After years of debate and struggle, a decaying Downtown finds itself in a revitalization
An interior view of the Marlocon penthouse is seen from the front deck, which faces Main Street.

The 2,000-square-foot penthouse, the only condo on the fourth floor (and as of print date, still unsold), shines with personality. The open-ceiling concept exposes metal girders. Shelves line the living-area wall with a stainless-steel, rolling library ladder. A skylight towers above the half bath. (Even on a rainy day, the skylight supplies sufficient lighting for the bathroom.) Batik wood acts as the multi-headed shower’s floor. Pocket doors between rooms allow for more space. The front rooftop area has a raised patio over a rock bed, giving an illusion of a creek.

Mike Martin, whose company Architectural Renovators restores historic homes, developed the five lofts at The Marlocon. The Boonville native, who now lives in a home in the Riverside Historic District, liked the open spaces of loft living and followed the efforts of developers in Chicago and St. Louis. “It made me more interested in that ultra-modern feel of open space and having it in an old building,” Martin says. “You have a mix of old and new together.”

Martin is not alone. In late 2006, after transforming the old J.C. Penney store on Main Street into a 23 unit condo development, The Kunkel Group pumped in nearly $5 million to renovate the former deJong’s building into a 31-condo complex. Before the first construction worker stepped foot on site, nine condos were already sold. With a first floor housing a one-story drug store, John Stratman transformed the second floor of his Main Street building into five loft apartments. Pat Rayburn and Bill Bussing Jr. renovated the former Permanent Federal Building on Third Street, creating 21 condos. In May 2007, Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel announced the historic McCurdy Hotel will undergo a $7.2 million transformation, turning the then retirement home into an 80-unit, upscale apartment building.

The last time Downtown Evansville saw this much action, Harry S. Truman was president. Turning a slumping Downtown into an economically prosperous area has been a source of debate that is decades old. Even when 42-year-old, Evansville-native Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel describes his memories of Downtown, he says with a laugh, “Tumbleweeds blowing down Main Street.” Nearly 200 condos and lofts have been built since 2004, and interest in the Downtown is blossoming. Loft developments are proof Downtown living is back, Chuck Harper, vice president of The Kunkel Group says. Has the moment come when years of bar arguments, newspaper rantings, and city council meetings about the dilapidating Downtown end? For these Evansvillians — developers Ben Kunkel, Mike Martin, Pat Rayburn, Bill Bussing Jr., John Stratman, Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel — they don’t debate how to revitalize. They act. They believe.


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