Progress on Lofts Moves Ahead

On the rough-hewn edge of the Blue Dome District, Michael Sager’s dream is taking shape.
“We’ve upgraded the entire sewer system, we have fire suppression in the building and we have undergone massive structural stabilization,” he said as he unlocked the door of the Jacobs Hotel, now the First Street Lofts. “We’ve done a lot of work, but we’re still ugly and dirty.”
He’s right; it still doesn’t look like much. As it stands today, after 17 months of construction, the building still has a long way to go. But construction isn’t slow for lack of drive; rather, Sager said, because he is taking the time to not only restore the building, but to push it beyond it’s original glory, literally brick by brick.
“We went along the building’s entire facade, took out each brick, cleaned it, put it back, and regrouted it,” Sager said. “The bricks that we took out for the windows we reused to build up the inside walls of the building. We also brought in bricks I had removed years ago from next door, and I bought brick saved from buildings all over Tulsa for the rest. There isn’t a new brick in the place.”
To those who have never met Sager, and even to some who have, the above procedure sounds crazy. It would be faster, and probably cheaper (the project now carries a ballpark price of $4 million, roughly $222,000 per each of the building’s 18 units) to simply tear down the exterior walls and drywall the interiors.
But speed and money aren’t nearly as important to Sager as the quality of the finished product. Besides, the brick interiors have purposes other than aesthetics.
“This is a wall that is about 12 or 13 inches of masonry thick, with multiple layers of insulation,” he said. “This is very much an ancient thermal mass situation like you would find in adobe or straw huts: enormously thick walls that it takes heat a long time to get in or out.”
Sager said in the height of the summer last year, he and his crew placed heat sensors on the interior and exterior walls, and found an average 40 degree difference from inside to outside, without air conditioning.
The building’s 18 units, ranging from 800 to 3,000-SF, consist of 12 single-story units on the second and third stories, and six two-story units on the top floor. While there will be identical units in the building, they will not be on the same floor.
Even without many walls in place, visitors can see the hallways won’t look like those in the average apartment building.
“We call these the lightning bolt hallways,” Sager said. “All the planes are irregular and all the doors are recessed, so when you look down the hallway, you can’t see everyone else’s door. It doesn’t feel like you’re in a hotel.”
The attention to detail and fetish for reclaimed building materials seen on the exterior of the building is reflected inside as well. Sager pointed out that the hardwood floors in the first two floors of units will be “hardwood oak reclaimed from Missouri. This stuff is the real deal, not laminate manufactured in Singapore.”
The bottom floor of the two-story units will be high-polish concrete.
All of the windows have been replaced with 3/4-inch low-e windows, and the few sheetrock walls are constructed of the latest anti-mold product.
Unlike some modern lofts, Sager’s project is all about open space, down to the elevator.
“We took what would have been the standard elevator size and upgraded it to a hospital size elevator,” Sager said. “You can get in and out very easily with your bike, or with someone else with a bike. It makes for ease of moving in and out, you aren’t having to stand your furniture up on end and fight it.”
All of this attention to detail seems expensive, and it is. But Sager said he is doing his best not to pass that cost to the consumer.
“We are going to keep the (rent on each unit) as low as possible to still cover our costs and service our debt,” he said.

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