Planners OK turning convent into apartments

A city housing developer plans to convert a former convent near Divine Providence Hospital into up to 40 upscale apartments.

Developer George Hutchinson received a recommendation from the city Planning Commission Monday to build Providence Place, consisting of 36 to 40 one-, two-, and three-bedroom units in the four-story building that used to be a residence for nuns at Grampian Boulevard and Chestnut Street.

“We’re going to be looking for middle to upper-middle tenants,” he told the Sun-Gazette following the meeting. “People who are tired of paying real estate taxes, insurance and doing the maintenance and upkeep of their properties are the kind of tenants we’re looking for.”

Hutchinson said he estimated the investment to convert the building into apartments to be about $3 million, and he said he isn’t getting tax exemptions or other incentives to building from the city.

At one time, Hutchinson was related through marriage to Mayor Gabriel J. Campana, but the mayor made it clear he supports the project and liked previous projects done by Hutchinson in the city.

“His projects are wonderful and he’s committed millions of dollars to the city, and I will work with Hutchinson as I will with all developers if the project is good for the city and taxpayers.”

Hutchinson’s company, LGN, received the recommended conditional use needed to move toward construction by the commission, but wo members, Chris Keiser and William Rischar, abstained because of their employment affiliation.

Rischar works in the hospital system and Keiser with the architectural and engineering design firm, Larson Design Group, which is doing some work on the project, Campana said.

The commission also gave a positive recommendation to the administration’s entertainment ordinance, which goes before council Thursday.

It establishes three districts – Central Business District, Arch Street and some side streets in Newberry and a portion of Washington Boulevard – as areas where businesses can have outdoor music on speakers or live bands performing. The ordinance will get two readings before council and would permit music in specified cordoned-off outdoor areas from 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and weekends.

According to the administration, city police officers would monitor noise levels and respond to any complaints.

Should the ordinance be approved by council, the city will petition the state Liquor Control Board for a waiver, and the board typically would hold three public hearings regarding the proposed districts.

Following the hearings, a decision would take place on the waivers and a ruling made within 60 days, according to Gary Knarr, city zoning officer.

According to Knarr, the ordinance could be finalized and the outdoor music allowed by the early spring if all goes as planned.