HYANNIS – Laura Isbrandt and Jim Berube were originally planning to buy a house in Cape Town when they decided to relocate from the South Shore.
Berube, owner of D&M Inflatables in Rockland, wishes to develop its activity on the bridge. The couple searched for a home for three months before giving up.
Then one day they stumbled upon what they were looking for … in the Cape Cod Times building.
“We were walking down Main Street and entered here,” Isbrandt said of the new residences at 319 Main & Ocean. “We threw it all in the air and we said, ‘We don’t go to open houses anymore.’”
Huge custom murals line a wide hallway in the 319 Main St. building which was once occupied by the headquarters of the Cape Cod Times. The hallway photos, taken by the newspaper’s photographers over the years, have captured moments in Cape Town life from the 1940s to the present day.
Now they mark a new era in the history of news building.
The 32,000 square foot two-story building, located on 2.7 acres of land, houses 22 new rental units. The Times and the Barnstable Patriot remain embedded in a 10,000-square-foot corner on the ground floor, where reporters will return once construction is complete.
The remainder of the building has been converted into apartments ranging in size from 730 to 1,471 square feet and renting from $ 1,800 to $ 2,700 per month. The project is led by Main Street LLC and Aaron Bornstein.
“We wanted to improve Hyannis,” Bornstein said. “This building gave us the opportunity.”
Units are equipped with stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and marble windows. Industrial lighting, single-handle faucets and islands that serve to separate kitchens from dining rooms are common everywhere. Wood floors, 23-foot-high ceilings, steel beams, and exposed brick give the units a modern, industrial feel.
Energy efficiency was built in from the start with Hydro air heating systems, Navien tankless water heaters and Marvin casement and sash windows.
Bornstein said he had never seen so many people looking for a rental. It’s a mix of old and young renters, and all 22 units were rented out quickly after being advertised.
The effort to breathe new life into the 1938 building came with many twists and turns, delays and unforeseen costs. Steel rails, encased in three layers of concrete and steel, carried reams of newsprint through the building when The Times had its own presses. To get them out, you needed a bomb bar and a Bornstein team similar to a mining team.
“We threw the budget away,” Bornstein said.
This is what often happens with restorations of older properties, said Robert Brennan Jr.
Brennan is the president of CapeBuilt Development LLC, the company that rehabilitated another property near the Times building called 255 Main. The upgrades forced his company to install a steel skeleton inside the building to support its weight. Three sides of the building had a foundation, but on the other, three layers of bricks rested on an earthen foundation.
“You have to fix it all,” Brennan said.
The rehabilitated structure contains a commercial space on the first floor and 10 apartments on the second. Two two-bedroom units and eight one-bedroom units on the top two floors are mostly rented at market rates, with two units being booked as affordable. Affordable units, which are available to people earning 100% of the area’s median income, rent for $ 2,173 per month, which includes all utilities and Internet access.
As with the residences at 319 Main & Ocean, the 10 units at 255 Main were rented quickly. Brennan said there were 63 people on a waiting list for the 10 apartments.
Sea Captains Row, another CapeBuilt project on Pleasant Street, is another effort from the east. Starting at $ 1,675 per month rental, the one, two and three bedroom units are designed to attract people from downtown, close to the waterfront, restaurants and shopping.
The developments are transforming Main Street and ushering in a new era, according to Elizabeth Wurfbain, executive director of the Hyannis Main Street Business Improvement District.
“I think Hyannis is about to make a big change,” she said.
Wurfbain is a proponent and supporter of smart growth that creates denser developments that are tied to existing infrastructure, such as water and sewer lines. Planners’ best practices require denser footprints to reduce pollution, but also to support retail, she said. The ability to walk to work, school, shops and restaurants means fewer vehicles but more dynamism in the city center.
The concept of pedestrian towns is to go back to the days when people were close to schools and infrastructure, Wurfbain said.
“We really have to train ourselves to think about the urban environment,” she said.
The Business Improvement District, which runs about a mile from Yarmouth Road to Dumont Avenue and includes several side streets, is one of only seven districts in the state. Its 100 members contribute to an annual fund of $ 140,000 which is used for measures ensuring the safety, the cleanliness and the beautification of the downtown area.
The district was instrumental in securing state and local grants to improve the downtown area. COVID-19 has prompted the city, state, chamber of commerce and Business Improvement District to take steps they would not normally have taken to foster economic development, Wurfbain said.
“The grants were faster and more creative,” she said.
The Business Improvement District received a Shared Streets and Spaces grant from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and two Commonwealth Places COVID-19 Response Resurgent Places grants from MassDevelopment, and a grant from the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism which they used to turn Main Street in a year-round destination despite COVID-19.
The old benches have been replaced. Bike racks and planters have been added to make the street more welcoming. Concrete barriers will once again be installed to allow alfresco dining along Main Street, although this year they will be covered with coastal patterns.
Outdoor events with fire pits and warming stations drew people downtown during the winter months. DJs played music, bubble machines sent bubbles skyward, and entertainment areas were designed from empty parking lots.
On a recent cold weekend in April, more than 30 families showed up for a superhero event, something Wurfbain called “huge” for the neighborhood.
“COVID has forced people to do things they wouldn’t normally do,” she said. “We teach people to be outside.”
“There is a huge revival going on,” said Brennan. He credited Wurfbain and the Business Improvement District for their efforts to direct grants to Main Street and keep some businesses afloat. While not all businesses are coming back after the pandemic, Brennan believes the urban neighborhood has been revitalized in recent years.
This urban experience is something Brennan said young professionals crave in Cape Town. In some ways, he said, the pandemic has opened the door for this to happen.
“You can keep your job as an accountant, financial services specialist, filmmaker, fill the gap and work wherever you want,” Brennan said. “They can do their ‘anywhere’ on Cape Cod.”
Every time a new project is completed or companies make improvements to their buildings, it adds energy and vibrancy to downtown Hyannis, Brennan said.
“It makes it more desirable and more people want to live there.”
There is still work to be done and the number of empty storefronts along Main Street can be overwhelming. There are currently 13 properties available for sale or rental, including spaces that once housed the Hyannis Oyster Bar, Lorena Cafe and Bakery, and Seaside Pub on Main. The Little Sandwich Shop is open for business but is nestled between two large empty storefronts.
Nonetheless, Wurfbain is confident that the improvements will help the village of Hyannis, the town of Barnstable and all of its inhabitants.
Sturgis Charter Public School bought the former bowling alley at 441 Main Street last year to expand its presence downtown. The move will bring a little more dynamism to the city center, Wurbain said, but it’s only part of the overall plan to build a year-round economy, an economy that supports everyone. Without it, Wurfbain said Hyannis and the rest of Cape Town would be in trouble.
“You need an economy that is open all year round, not just an economy that relies on tourism,” she said. “You need affordable housing. All of these pieces need to be intelligently woven together.
Hyannis can be a role model in changing the look and feel of downtown areas, she said. Urban life is problematic, but there is always something going on.
“The urban room is where things happen,” she said.
Contact Denise Coffey at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @DeniseCoffeyCCT.