Developers eye loft units in Weatherly building

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Developers James Flanigan and Kevin O’Leary of Richmond-based J.D. Lewis Construction Management have signed a contract to purchase the Weatherly Candy Factory building, shown here Wednesday at the corner of Elizabeth and Water streets. J.D. Lewis plans to convert the building into loft apartments, Flanigan said this week.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The first time James Flanigan saw the former Weatherly Candy Factory building, it was as most people first see it — while crossing the Pasquotank River Bridge.

It was six years ago, and the multi-million-dollar project to replace the bridge and restore Elizabeth Street was underway.

"When I first looked at the project, they were pounding pilings for the bridge," Flanigan, a partner in Richmond, Virginia-based J.D. Lewis Construction Management, recalled this week.

Flanigan, whose firm has experience revitalizing old buildings, including former tobacco warehouses, said he continued keep tabs on the vacant Weatherly building, which is located at the western foot of the bridge at the corner of Elizabeth and Water streets, and “just kind of waited for the market to improve.” 

Apparently Flanigan and Kevin O’Leary, his partner in J.D. Lewis Construction Management, believe the housing market has improved. A couple of weeks ago,they signed a contract declaring their intention to purchase and renovate the massive former candy factory building.

Flani­gan de­clined to re­lease de­tails of the pur­chase price. Pasquotank County Tax Records show the for­mer Weatherly Candy Fac­tory build­ing and the smaller, also vacant build­ing be­side it are owned by EAS Sen­sor Sense of south­ern Cal­i­for­nia. The va­cant Weatherly build­ing most re­cently was home of the Mat­tress Out­let.

Flanigan, who is from northern Virginia but now lives in Kitty Hawk, said he and O’Leary, who’s from Seattle, started their business in the Richmond area, but have worked on other historic property renovations, including in Hampton and Newport News.

"The reason why we're interested in Elizabeth City is because we've done quite a few historic renovations," he said. "And we like to take older structures and repurpose them — and retain a little bit of the past and make it a viable, useful building again."

According to a National Register of Historic Places Inventory of Elizabeth City, the former Weatherly Candy Factory building was constructed in 1923. Given it’s in a historic district, Flanigan and O’Leary plan to seek financial incentives and tax credits to help defray some of the renovation project’s costs.

Flanigan believes the Weatherly building, because it’s an open warehouse-style structure, can be repurposed for modern loft units.

"We think there's a good market for that in Elizabeth City," he said.

And while the building is in disrepair, Flanigan said he and his partner have rehabilitated buildings in much worse shape. Flanigan also said he likes a challenge.

Flanigan said his and O’Leary’s preliminary plans call for some residential units and parking on the first-floor of the three-story structure, with the upper stories dedicated to apartments.

He said the exterior, including the metal window frames, will be refurbished and the bricks will remain exposed. He said the interior will undergo non-structural demolition.

To the left of the three-story Weatherly building is a more modern two-story structure, whose upper facade is brick covered by vinyl siding. Flanigan and O'Leary are also acquiring that structure in the deal.

Flanigan said the plan is to remove the siding and expose the brick of the two-story structure, which also will be converted into residential apartments.

"We're trying to do an upper-end product there," he said.

Asked who will likely be his tenant base, he said people who love to live downtown and near the water. 

"We're looking for the people that don't want to live out in the suburbs, who want to be more close to the waterfront and the urban areas," he said.

While the renovation project should start sometime next year and take 12-18 months to finish, there is no settled date for completing the project, Flanigan said.