Gretna residents Rich and Beth Armstrong are embarking on a new business venture: developing several loft-style apartments in historic buildings in downtown Gretna.
To start, the couple is developing three loft-style apartments in the second floor of their business. Most of Gretna’s housing options are older and outside of the downtown area.
“There’s a lot happening in Gretna and there’s a need for more housing options,” Beth Armstrong said.
The couple purchased the building at 105 N. Main St. in 2018 and soon after renovated the bottom floor to house Rich Armstrong’s business, Armstrong and Associates Land Surveying Inc.
Two of the first units will have one bedroom, and the third will be a two-bedroom unit. The first of these units is scheduled for completion in April, and the first two already have leases signed, Rich Armstrong said. These units will have significant amounts of exposed brick in an effort to preserve as much of the history as possible, the Armstrongs said.
“We want to keep as much of the Gretna history with the building as possible,” Beth Armstrong said.
In addition to the current building, which will have at least three units and has the space for as many as five, the Armstrongs plan on developing an adjacent building once this project is complete. A former stable turned auto garage that was originally built in the early 1900s, what is left is a concrete foundation and three walls. Significant work is needed to ready that building for two more units that are either two- or three-bedrooms, Armstrong said.
Collectively, the units will be referred to as Lindy’s Lofts after a shopkeeper who worked in the building decades before, Rich Armstrong said.
“The name is kind of a throwback to what was happening in Gretna,” he said.
While their primary market is for young professionals, the Armstrongs said they are open to anyone renting from them.
The Armstrongs aren’t the first to create new, modern living options in downtown Gretna. Gene Okeson finished his first three-unit townhouse building in 2016, and completed another in 2018 in a housing complex called Galveston Commons.
“It just gives a new look to Gretna,” Okeson said. “We’ve kind of gotten old and stale. … It helps us to modernize, brings in something new, which is always an advantage.”
“The lofts will add a residential space and more charm to our beloved town,” added Kate Farmer, owner of multiple downtown businesses, who is consulting on the design of the units.
While his original intention was to attract retired individuals with units built on the former Galveston Mills, he has seen more younger people move in to the six units he currently has available. And so far, Okeson has not had any turnover among his tenants.
In the future, he hopes to build three more townhouse buildings to provide more living options in downtown Gretna.
“I feel like there’s a definite need for housing in Gretna,” he said. “Most of the homes are older and somewhat dilapidated.”
Town Manager David Lillie said he sees a general trend of more and more people seeking out downtown living.
“It’s sort of a breath of fresh air into the downtown community,” he said of the new living options and developments.
Similar living options developed in recent years have been beneficial in both Chatham and Danville, officials said.
“[More downtown living options] has made a huge impact in our downtown, and it’s an impact that’s helped us move our downtown area forward,” said Danville Mayor Alonzo Jones.
In the slightly larger Chatham, the former Chatham Elementary School was converted into a 31-unit apartment building off Main Street back in 2013.
Richard Cocke, town manager of Chatham, said the apartments have provided more taxes and encouraged people to shop downtown.
“It’s a good thing that they’re in smaller towns,” he said of modern, loft-style apartments. “It gives a smaller town some vitality that might not otherwise exist.”
Having a diverse range of housing options throughout Pittsylvania County is important in recruiting businesses to move to the region, economic professionals said.
“A variety of housing options is a critical component in attracting and retaining professionals in our region,” said Alexis Ehrhardt, president and CEO of the Danville Pittsylvania Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s workforce housing to executive living,” added Pittsylvania County Economic Developer Matt Rowe.
In Gretna, tanker truck builder Amthor International, which resides in an industrial park right outside of downtown, has pledged to add 70 additional jobs over the next three years.
Years ago, downtown Danville was desolate, lacking quality living options and thriving businesses. Through public and private partnerships during the past several years, there now are more than 2,000 people living in the downtown area in a wide range of living options, including loft apartments, Jones said.
“These lofts really brought back downtown,” he said.
Ayers reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7981.