Peter Anderson thinks the 105-year-old former County Annex building in downtown Casper looks pretty good for its age.
The red-brick exterior didn’t need much work, the structure itself was in good shape and its foundation was solid -- good bones, the Rapid City-based contractor and developer said.
Anderson has developed an eye for historic buildings with potential. After four years of vacancy, Anderson hopes to see that potential realized when he reopens the building as the Hotel Virginia Apartments on the corner of First and Market streets, a 15-unit luxury complex in the heart of downtown.
This is his first foray into development in Wyoming, although his company has done extensive construction work in the eastern part of the state.
His company, MAC Construction, has renovated much of downtown Rapid City and Deadwood, South Dakota. That work has caught the eye and imaginations of city officials bent on bringing Rapid City’s thriving downtown to Casper.
Stateline No. 7 architect Lyle Murtha, who has worked with Anderson in the past, persuaded him to take a look at the County Annex.
Anderson remembers seeing the basement of the old County Annex building and wondering how to convert the dungeon atmosphere into two high-end loft units in the heart of downtown Casper.
Crews punched through 16-inch-thick concrete walls and used cranes to remove the 3,000-pound slabs and let the natural light in.
“This is the stuff that takes time. You can’t just wham-bam this stuff out,” Anderson said. “Your normal developer trying to crank units out and get things going, they’re not going to do that.”
The cookie-cutter approach wouldn’t work here, and Anderson didn’t want it to. Almost every loft in the building has a different layout because crews had to work with what the building offered.
That has led to some quirks -- a couple of bedrooms have windows in the closet space -- but it also afforded some of the lofts huge ceilings and windows plenty of hardwood flooring and original timber beams.
Anderson said he finds a sense of satisfaction in the organic nature of redeveloping old buildings and saving them from the wrecking ball.
“Keeping the old, making it new, there’s a unique attribute. You’re never going to replicate that,” Anderson said. “Those unique attributes are what can define a town. We have a passion about it. We think old buildings are worth saving.”
The four-story structure was built as a hotel in 1909. Today, the 15 one- and two-bedroom apartments will rent for between $1,000 and $1,350. The floor space ranges from 560 square feet to 940 square feet.
“You know, market rate, below market rate, I just think it’s important to have people living downtown,” Anderson said. “I’m just a huge advocate that cities need a vibrant core, and to have a vibrant core, you need people downtown to work, to shop, to eat, to entertain, all that. If you have people downtown, it just makes it so much more likely all those businesses will succeed.”
The building also has 1,100 square feet worth of office space Anderson thinks would work well for a law or accounting firm. That space should be finished by August.
The county vacated the building in 2010 shortly after the Townsend Justice Center opened, according to previous Star-Tribune reports.
Estimates for demolishing the structure ranged upward of $750,000. Instead, the commissioners voted to sell it to McCarthy Properties for $200,000.
Only Commissioner Terry Wingerter voted against the sale. He wanted to hold on to the property to build a three-story parking garage someday.
However, he’s supportive of the project today.
“It looks like they did a good job of fixing it up, and I wish them all the success in the world,” Wingerter said. “I think it will be something good for the downtown. I think it’s good more people are looking to develop downtown.”