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READY TO RENT: Developer Royce Reding shows the renovations he's completed on two Grant Avenue triplexes.
Katelyn Egger | SBJ
READY TO RENT: Developer Royce Reding shows the renovations he's completed on two Grant Avenue triplexes.

Developers: Rehab work with city is progressing but there’s room for more

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Springfield needs more people to invest in blighted properties and bring them back into the housing stock, according to Brock Rowe, director of the city’s Building Development Services department.

For his part, Rowe is working to streamline BDS’ services so that developers can do that work.

The department handles inspections and permits, and often it’s the source of difficult news for developers or property owners. Rowe said he has made it his mission to bring his staff to its full capacity and make sure they are well trained so that interactions with the public can be seamless.

What he’d especially like to avoid are circumstances where a developer can get a response from one inspector and a different response from another. It’s something that sometimes happens, Rowe said.

“We’re more certified than we’ve ever been,” he said. “We’re trying our very best, but it’s difficult. Some inspectors can see things a little bit differently, but we’re trying to get everyone on the same page.”

In an interview with Springfield Business Journal last month, Rowe said he had just hired two land-use inspectors, which brought his department to full staffing levels, with one exception: a project facilitator position that he was working to modify in order to get the right person in the right place. The job description called for an architecture degree, but Rowe figured someone with building code experience and an understanding of the permitting and inspection process would be better.

“That’s not necessarily what an architect does,” he said. “I want to get the type of person in there that has an understanding of what the building codes say.”

Rowe took on the role in November 2022 and was preceded in his position by Dwayne Shmel, who resigned from the directorship in March 2022 after one year on the job. Just prior to his resignation, Shmel reported to Springfield City Council at a lunch session on the onerous weight of nuisance violations on his department, including 5,652 dangerous building complaints.

Prior to Shmel, Harlan Hill held the top BDS role 2017-22.

Rowe, 44, is making the moves of someone who intends to hang in the job for the long haul, and as City Council pursues a new policy of quarterly nuisance property reports, his message is that he wants to work with owners.

“Buildings have a life cycle,” he said. “If they’re not maintained, that life cycle gets shortened – and no building’s going to last forever.”

He noted people get upset when long-standing properties get torn down, especially red brick buildings that some think should last forever.

“Brick is pervious; it absorbs moisture,” he said. “As they get older, bricks expand, press outward, collapse – all from natural things. If maintenance isn’t done, it happens faster.”

Eventually, all buildings will meet the end of their life span.

“Heating and air helps buildings,” he said. “Most houses within three years of someone abandoning them have substantial issues. Finding those houses three years before, when they can be fixed at a cheaper price, is the key for anybody that wants to flip a house, and it’s the key for us, too – you’ve got to head things off early.”

Doing the work
Rowe praised the work of developers who are removing properties from the city’s blight list and turning once-dilapidated houses into livable homes.

One such developer, Josh Manning of The Valiant Group, renovated 32 houses in 2023 and has a goal of renovating 60 this year, according to SBJ reporting last month.

Manning said he buys dangerous houses – what he called “the absolute worst” – and restores them, most to be sold to homebuyers.

Royce Reding, who develops properties under several company names, including REDEC LLC, is another person who is doing what he can to rehab houses.

Reding admits to a rocky relationship with BDS. In a recent tour of his properties, he pointed out two side-by-side triplexes at the intersection of Grant Avenue and Division Street.

When Reding bought the properties, they had sat vacant for six or seven years. He said he bought them about a year ago, and progress has ground to a halt. Pointing to one of the buildings, he said its bottom floor is still in studs and its upper unit has had drywall installed and painted.

“They were both in just terrible condition,” he said. “We’ve completely redone it. We’ve done foundation work – it was literally falling in, so we went in and we poured new footers under there and we used six-by-six construction and then we lifted that house up about eight inches to get it back to level, and it’s all new floor joists.”

Reding said he didn’t change anything structurally inside; he purchased them as triplexes and intends to keep them as triplexes.

“We pulled our permits, and they actually passed a couple of our rough-in inspections, and then we have a new inspector come in and all of a sudden he goes, ‘Hold on,’” Reding said.

Because it was a triplex, the new inspector called for the installation of fire-resistant materials and even talked about requiring a sprinkler system.

“That makes it completely cost-prohibitive if you’ve got to do that,” Reding said.

It took eight months to get the matter resolved, Reding said.

“There were differing opinions at the lower level, but then Brock got involved,” Reding said.

He noted Rowe negotiated between the differing opinions of inspectors and ultimately decided in Reding’s favor, but he still lost costs accrued from a delay in being able to take on tenants and from work Reding did to satisfy demands.

“We did a lot of that work, all for naught – it’s just lost costs,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we got through it.”

The triplexes, located on the city’s high-profile Grant Avenue, are coming along, with new plumbing, electrical, ventilation and framing.

“The problem that we’re running into is to make the numbers work on projects, I can’t take eight-month delays,” he said. “All I’m asking from the city on these types of projects is just work with us.”

Reding said he paid around $100,000 for one of the triplexes and put about $130,000 into it.

“You’ve got debt service on those payments, but the bigger thing to me is my money’s tied up in it, so I can’t move on to anything else, and that’s what you need to do – that’s the whole flipping thing,” he said.

Reding said things are going more smoothly with Rowe in the permanent role of BDS director. He recalled meeting with Rowe at a single-family home he rehabbed on Poplar Street.

“He said, ‘Look, we need to work better with you,’” Reding said. “And I will say, since that conversation, there’s been an improvement. That part is encouraging.”

Nuisances a focus
Rowe said he appreciates Reding and others like him because of their professionalism.

“People buy old houses, and they’re mom-and-pops with good intentions, trying their best,” he said. “Maybe they dreamed of being a landlord and making money off of properties, but they don’t have any money to fix things up. The rent’s cheap enough to get renters, but they can’t afford repairs.”

A lot of circumstances can cause houses to become blighted, Rowe said.

“We have college guys that are flipping houses, and we’re catching people all the time, working without permits,” he said. “Permits are so important. You can make an error and cause a building to collapse, cause fires or flood out a house, and then people can lose everything they own. It’s important to do your due diligence.”

These days, Rowe said, his department has the city divided into three sections, with a development team, including a plan reviewer, development coordinator and building inspectors, assigned to each of them.

If property owners have a question, he encouraged them to give his office a call to get guidance before blight occurs.

“We tear down 40-something houses a year, and I don’t like tearing down a house. I’d rather have people fix them,” Rowe said.

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