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Old First Ward Barrel Factory getting apartments

The owners of the Barrel Factory building in the city’s Old First Ward won approval from the city Planning Board on Monday to expand their conversion project by adding seven apartments on the upper two floors.

Lazarus Properties, led by Steve Bystran and Bruce Mack, is spending $3.5 million to transform the vacant 43,000-square-foot building at 28-83 Vandalia, at the corner of Republic Street, into a mixed-use commercial and residential project, including their Lakeward Spirits distillery on the first floor and a tasting room area on the second floor.

The team has already done significant infrastructure and utility work, including asbestos removal and a new roof, after getting initial approval for the commercial work a year ago, Bystran said. Workers also have used sandblasting and “wet blasting” to remove old paint and graffiti from the brick, which was deteriorating because of trapped moisture.

“The revelation that this building would not have survived another five years was apparent, as the internal structure was rotting,” he said. “That all had to be repaired as part of the roof project.”

Additional work is underway to prepare the commercial space, which takes up about half of the building. That includes a barrel-aging area, as well as the homes for Queen City Malting – the first malter in the city since the 1970s – and Elevator Alley Kayaks, an outdoor equipment sales and rental business. There’s also still room for a brewery on the first floor, Bystran said. “We have beer, whiskey, the whole schmear.”

Now the group is turning to the market-rate residential space, which will consist of six two-bedroom units and one large three-bedroom apartment, ranging in size from 1,150 square feet to 1,900 square feet. Bystran said they hope to start work on them in May, and to finish next November. Three of the seven are already leased.

As part of the work, crews will restore working windows to the upper levels, where the holes are largely covered over with brick, plywood, metal or cages. The project also calls for knocking down a small rear office building, clearing that site and adding 20 parking spaces to the 10 to 15 that already exist on the property.

“We absolutely support development in the city,” said Laura Kelly, executive director of the Old First Ward Community Association.