CONCORD -- The Endicott Hotel has vacancies once again.
The downtown landmark is reopening after a massive overhaul over the last year and a half. The Endicott's former 36 one-bedroom units have been converted into 24 apartments designed to blend contemporary urban living with the iconic features of a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
"We talked for a long, long time at the board level about how to do this and what was the right thing to do," said Rosemary Heard, president of CATCH Neighborhood Housing.
CATCH stands for Concord Area Trust for Community Housing, a nonprofit organization that assists low- to moderate-income families with housing. That means the colossal undertaking was to be done on a very tight budget that required some creative ways to save money without skimping on the building that has stood at the corner of South Main and Pleasant streets since 1894.
Project manager Caite Foley thought of enlisting students at the New Hampshire Institute of Art and contacted Phoebe Ann Neiswenter, the interior design program coordinator at the school.
Foley said Neiswenter told her flatly this was no class project for students. She called up four NHIA graduates who were now professional designers and got them on board to work pro bono.
"I didn't realize how in-depth it would be. They put in so much hard work and time into this project, and it has come out fabulous. My response has been over the moon," Foley said.
Designer Rene Rucci said she and her former classmates enjoyed the challenge of envisioning a dramatic transformation and seeing it through the entire process.
When we came in and we looked at the space, it honestly looked like a war zone had gone on in here," said Rucci, who runs Rene Rucci Interior Design in Atkinson.
Rucci said the design team worked with an architect while narrowing down what walls needed to stay and what could go as the group tried to create space and take advantage of the Endicott's high ceilings.
"This is what we think should happen. Can it happen? You never know with a building of this age. It's a big challenge," Rucci said. "It was fun to see the historical elements brought to a much more modern, up-to-date kind of feel, but keeping all the charm."
An unexpected challenge came in February 2012 when the Green Martini Restaurant and Lounge on the first floor of the Pleasant Street side of the building was destroyed in an overnight fire. The blaze gutted part of the Endicott and revealed structural flaws that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.
Construction crews re-enforced areas with steel beams, and the plans adjusted, turning a pair of one-bedroom units on the second and third floor into a split-level loft with a spiral staircase.
The loft is definitely not typical for a property offered by CATCH, which decided to take a new approach once the overhaul was complete and rent the apartments at market rate rather than charge the lower affordable housing levels. The idea was to create a source of funding for the organization, which like all nonprofits has suffered through the bad economic times.
"Ultimately, it will contribute to our mission," Foley said. "A lot of funding has been cut in the last year and will be in the next two years, so we're looking at some depleted funding that we would normally receive. Having an unencumbered income stream that could flow back to our mission is extremely important."
Rent in the building ranges from $975 to $1,400. Heard said CATCH tried to set the prices modestly enough for renters to afford, and as of last week seven leases were signed.
A majority of the work was inside the building, which still appears much as it did in photographs taken in the early 1900s when the Endicott thrived as a hotel just a block up the hill from the train station. The semicircle turret windows on the northwest corner still stand out boldly along Main Street and provide a nice breakfast nook in the second floor two-bedroom model apartment Rucci and her colleagues designed, then decorated with some of their creativity and works by artists from the institute, which are on display and for sale.
All of the units have upgraded kitchens, including stainless-steel appliances, polished stone countertops and dark wood laminate flooring throughout.
Foley said construction crews had been working from 5 a.m. until 7 p.m. in a push to get the building open by the end of July. The building was ready for the first residents to start moving in on Aug. 1.
Work continues on the retail spaces at street level, including the site of the former Green Martini. Two bar stools salvaged from the fire are part of the one-bedroom model unit created by the designers, who also handled the communal space and laundry area. The large room features three enlarged photographs from the building's early days that were captured on negatives Foley found while digging through an old filing cabinet.