UB Block coming back to life from edge of demolition

Restoration Specialist Julio Cruz works on the stained-glass window outside the Odd Fellows Hall building in the UB Block, in Huntington, on Friday, Oct. 12. Cruz’s work is a part of a rehabilitation project that commenced at the UB Block this past March. The project, which will see the UB Block refurbished and house apartments, plus spaces for Huntington University and Pathfinder Services, is almost halfway complete.
Restoration Specialist Julio Cruz works on the stained-glass window outside the Odd Fellows Hall building in the UB Block, in Huntington, on Friday, Oct. 12. Cruz’s work is a part of a rehabilitation project that commenced at the UB Block this past March. The project, which will see the UB Block refurbished and house apartments, plus spaces for Huntington University and Pathfinder Services, is almost halfway complete. Photo by Steve Clark.

Jon Anderson’s favorite projects are the ones that almost don’t happen.

Anderson is the president and chief executive officer of AP Development LLC, an Indianapolis-based real estate development company that is overseeing the rehabilitation of Huntington’s UB Block. It’s a project that qualifies as one of Anderson’s favorites because it has saved historic buildings for which demolition loomed.

The UB Block, located at 48 E. Franklin St., is a group of three buildings that total 48,000 square feet. Two of the buildings were erected by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF), a fraternal organization that had a presence in Huntington. Of those structures, the first was built in 1889 and served as the Odd Fellows Hall while the second was constructed circa 1915 and was the IOOF Trust Building, which was the regional headquarters for IOOF’s financial arm.

The third structure, built in 1915, housed the United Brethren Church’s publishing enterprise, UB Publishing Establishment. In 1957, the publishing business purchased the two IOOF buildings, which it connected and expanded into, ultimately giving the site the UB Block identity it’s known for.

In 1981, UB Publishing Establishment ceased operations. It was at this point the buildings started to decline. By 2013, the structures had deteriorated to a point where the City of Huntington had solicited a bid for their demolition.

Efforts were made, however, to save the UB Block. And this year, those efforts paid off. A redevelopment project, totaling approximately $8.5 million, got underway in March.

The project’s funding includes dollars from local, state and federal sources.

“There’s a lot of moving parts coming together to make this project happen,” says Anderson.

With AP Development shepherding the project, it hired Indianapolis-based Community Construction to serve as the general contractor.

When the project commenced in the spring, interior demolition and remediation were the first items on the agenda.

“A lot happens in the beginning,” says Anderson, “because people see debris getting hauled out of the building.”
When the dust settled, the layers of flooring, wall coverings and more that had built up in the UB Block through the years had been removed.

“We peel it back,” says Anderson. “We peel it back all the way.”

AP Development wasn’t just having things discarded from the building, though; it was also making determinations about what to save. Preserved elements, for instance, include many of the windows and interior walls. Also, terrazzo floors in the original UB publishing building will be retained, as will a large stained-glass window on the Odd Fellows Hall building.

One of the preserved elements that Anderson is most excited about is hardwood floors that were discovered throughout the UB Block.

“One of the coolest things, when we got in and took out all the layers and layers and layers of flooring, we found the original hardwoods in about 85 percent of the building,” he says. “So, probably 80 to 85 percent of the building will have original hardwood floors, refinished.

“That’s a pretty cool feature.”

As the project has unfolded, Anderson says one of the biggest obstacles has been dealing with Huntington’s bedrock.

“The bedrock is certainly an issue in Huntington for anybody, so plumbing and sewer connections and elevators and those kind of things, that was a challenge,” he says. “Probably our biggest challenge.”

Another challenge has come in the form of the UB Block’s floors, which don’t line up – a byproduct of the three buildings having been constructed at different times. While that has been a complicating factor, it’s not one that has fazed Anderson, who’s encountered it before.

“That’s not unusual,” he says. “These are challenges, but these are things that we face all the time.

“This is what we do, is these large historic rehab projects.”

AP Development has been tackling such projects since Anderson founded it nine years ago. And over the years, he’s learned repeatedly that the old buildings his company rehabilitates will be filled with surprises. So, he makes sure to account for them, even before work begins.

“Those are all built into our timeline, built into our budget,” says Anderson. “So, while they’re surprises, they are anticipated surprises.”

The UB Block project is nearing the halfway point, says Anderson. Work on the roof has started and drywall work will follow shortly thereafter. He estimates the project will be completed by April or May of next year.

As the project closes in on that finish line, Anderson is looking forward to restoring a detail to the UB publishing building that has been absent for several years.

“There is a stained-glass window over the entrance to the UB building that is not there now, it is at the United Brethren office on campus,” he says, referring to the UB headquarters at Huntington University. “They have agreed to donate that back to us.

“So, as one of the last things we do, we’ll put that window back where it belongs.”

When finished, the UB Block will resemble its appearance from long before most community members were born.

“It’ll look more like it looked in the 1920s than maybe it looked like it did when people were going in there in the 1980s,” notes Anderson.

Inside the rehabilitated UB Block, there will be 35 market-rate apartments, collectively called UB Lofts. Also, Huntington University and Pathfinder Services will both have a presence in the structure. The university’s space will be geared toward fostering and supporting new business start-ups while providing a coworking area for the school’s small-business ventures and community entrepreneurs.

Pathfinder Services’ space will be dedicated to the arts. John Niederman, the organization’s president and CEO, stated at the Huntington Common Council meeting on Oct. 9 that Pathfinder planned on having a community art gallery in the building, plus a commissary where individuals will be able to engage in the culinary arts, preparing food for both commercial and personal ends.

The UB Block will be owned by UB Block LLC, which is an ownership entity created by AP Development.

Ultimately, while it may be AP Development’s work on the ground that’s ensured the UB Block stands for years to come, Anderson credits Huntington with seeing the buildings’ worth and realizing that they deserved to be saved.

“We would not be able to do what we’re doing with those buildings,” says Anderson, “had the mayor not stepped up the way he did, and the council and the redevelopment commission, to really get behind this project.”