Housing Authority unveils Stonebridge Housing Complex

Friday, September 7, marked the official opening and ribbon cutting of the newly finished Stonebridge Housing Complex at 307 W. Main St.
Over 40 were in attendance for Friday morning’s ribbon cutting ceremony, including State Senator Tom Tiffany, Rep. Mary Felzkowski, Merrill chamber ambassadors and representatives from Madison-based Horizon Development and Construction, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA).

Spanning 43,000 square feet, the tri-level Stonebridge Housing Complex features 38 units and offers a range of amenities including: handicap accessibility, central air, access to cable TV and internet. a comfortable homelike commons area, beauty salon and fitness center.
Garnering its namesake from the nearby 114-year-old stone three-arch bridge over the Prairie River, the name was selected as a result of a contest last year amongst Merrill Area Housing Authority (MAHA) residents. As part of the contest, residents submitted their ideas for a name for the new complex. Then last June, with over 200 entries, Nancy Muchinske’s “Stonebridge” suggestion was selected as the winner.
The construction of the $16 million project may have kicked off in February, but the story of Stonebridge dates back much further.
Recognizing a need for additional housing in the city and that the existing Park Place and Westgate facilities needed renovation, in early 2015 MAHA pursued funding avenues to address both with a planned renovation of Park Place and the construction of a brand housing facility. The last housing facility to be built in the city was Park Place in 1978.
Unfortunately when WHEDA released the list of Tax Credit Award recipients in April 2015, the Merrill Housing Authority was not one of them.
Although not exactly good news, Scott Kwiecinski, Development Manager with Horizon Group, was undaunted at the time.
“This is not unfamiliar territory,” he explained. “Sometimes it takes two and three application cycles to get a project funded. We remain committed to this project as we believe that it will greatly benefit the Park Place residents and assist with revitalization efforts in the City of Merrill. The good news is that we were very close and feel that we can re-tool some of the scoring items to be in a more competitive position next year.”
Kwiecinski’s prediction would ultimately prove accurate. In May of 2016, MAHA, Horizon Group and the City of Merrill announced their success in securing a real estate demonstration (RAD) project through the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and WHEDA). The conversion from public housing into Section 8 housing opened the door for private investors to assist in the capital improvements on public housing built in the 1970s. The announcement included plans for a new 38-unit housing facility, a complete renovation of Park Place as well as renovations to the Westgate Housing complex on the city’s west side. The Park Place renovation included increasing apartment size by 50%.
Following a groundbreaking event in early February, work on Stonebridge commenced immediately; defying a historic April snowfall to open three weeks ahead of schedule. The original completion date of the project was for the end of September.
While the various entities involved in the project were more than happy to showcase the fruits of their labor Friday, their work is far from finished. Monday morning, the second phase of the MAHA project commenced as relocation began for Park Place residents. As MAHA Executive Director Paul Russell explained, 32 Park Place residents will be relocating to the Stonebridge complex over the next couple weeks, to facilitate the Park Place renovation. Estimated completion date for the renovation is Fall of 2019.
“Building a newly constructed apartment complex is easy,” Russell adds. “This next phase of a gut rehab of Park Place, with tenants residing in the building, will be more challenging.
“There will always be a segment of a community that requires affordable housing to take care of the elderly and disabled citizens. Park Place has served that need for 45 years and this project will ensure that type of housing is available for another 45 years.”