Innovative Housing is closing in on a purchase of the former Waldorf Hotel for $80,000 from demolition and recycling company Groat Bros. Inc.
Earlier this year, Innovative Housing began a due diligence period on whether to buy the dilapidated hotel and turn it into 40 units of affordable housing next to Astoria City Hall. During a recent tour, Julie Garver, the group’s director of housing development, said the nonprofit had finished that due diligence after ensuring there was no extensive oil plume beneath the building. Innovative Housing has paid earnest money on the building, and will close the purchase in May, Garver said.
As part of its due diligence, Innovative Housing had a geotechnical engineer test soil underneath the foundation.
“When we dug into one hole, he found black soil that smelled like oil, and that means that there is oil there,” Garver said.
The state Department of Environmental Quality was notified, triggering a series of tests to see how much oil was in the ground, and where it was going.
“The DEQ actually made us take a drill rig out to the street to see if we had a plume of contamination that we were causing that was going toward the river, because that’s what they start to get really excited about,” Garver said. “And fortunately, we have no plume, and that is the reason we’re buying the building.”
The belief is that some underground piping from oil tanks to a boiler leaked, Garver said. Innovative Housing worked out prospective purchaser agreement with the Department of Environmental Quality that will solidify the amount of remediation needed and limit the group’s liability on environmental cleanup of the site.
During the tests, the group also found soupy soil and groundwater within 1 foot of the building’s floor, Garver said, a good thing considering water preserves the wooden pilings the building likely rests on.
The apartments Innovative Housing wants to create inside the former hotel will range between 250 and 500 square feet, each with a kitchen and bathroom, and cost between $450 and $850 a month, Garver said. Along with apartments will be a ground-floor retailer in the space of a former cigar store.
“I think we’re pretty open to retail uses that are going to enhance the downtown and benefit the community,” she said.
To fit all the apartments into the historic building with operative windows in each unit, Innovative Housing will extend existing light wells on either side of the building to the basement. A staircase will be built in one of the light wells for a second exit.
Silco Commercial Construction Inc., the firm that oversaw the construction of the Yacht Club Apartments, will be the general contractor at the Waldorf. Under the best-case scenario, Garver said, construction would start next fall.
The Waldorf, also known as the Merwyn Hotel, was targeted for demolition as part of the city’s plans to expand the Astoria Library. But preservationists urged the City Council to save the historic hotel, and an expansion of the library fell apart because of high costs. The city opted to renovate the library.