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Lofty aspirations: Franklin's Wigwam Building offers chic living spaces near downtown activities

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A cosmopolitan kind of living has come to downtown Franklin.

Lofts with high ceilings and laminate wood floors, floor-to-ceiling windows and large, airy rooms would be more fitting in Manhattan than central Indiana.

But developers, city leaders and young professionals have all seen the value of modern housing set in the middle of the city.

For residents looking for a stylish residence, the Lofts @ the Wigwam have created unique living spaces in downtown Franklin, borrowing from the best of the big city. Developers have taken historic buildings throughout the downtown area and turned them into chic apartments steps from entertainment, dining and jobs.

The strategy is just one step — albeit an important one — in establishing downtown areas as the epicenter of city life.

“There’s high demand for these downtown units. There is so much space down here that is not being utilized,” said Ryan Wadsworth, partner of Wadsworth Realty Investment Group, which owns the Wigwam.

Mallory Mendez moved to the Lofts @ the Wigwam in April while looking for a unique place to live in the Franklin area.

As the marketing coordinator for Franklin Parks and Recreation, she can walk out her front door and bike to work in less than two minutes. Her front door is steps away from coffee shops, the Artcraft Theatre, summer festivals and the weekly farmers market.

“There’s something about being right downtown that’s exciting. It’s convenient for me, with work, and especially with all of the events in the summer, I’m right in the middle of everything,” she said.

Developing housing options in downtown fits into the plan of the Franklin Development Corp. The group offers low-interest loans and matching grant programs have helped renovate some of the vacant buildings around the courthouse square.

The corporation itself has proposed buying and renovating a number of properties, including the G.W. Murphy building in downtown, said Craig Wells, CEO of the Franklin Development Corp.

A gateway project would add brick-paved streets, landscaped sidewalks and new lighting on the main routes into the center of Franklin. Plans call for LED street lights, a street clock and bike racks, all meant to make the area more attractive for pedestrians and shoppers.

But part of the success is drawing people downtown to live, Wells said. By creating an area with unique shopping, entertainment, businesses and residences, downtown becomes its own community, he said.

Wadsworth Realty Investment Group felt that it could fill a niche that existed in the downtown Franklin market, Wadsworth said.

The company has owned the Wigwam Building since 2008. At the time, the second floor was a teen concert venue containing small offices and a large, open stage section.

Wadsworth and his father, Mike, own eight other buildings throughout the city, including a number in downtown Franklin. They started buying properties when Wadsworth enrolled at Franklin College in 2004.

They had noticed how the city didn’t have a lot of people at the time willing to put money and invest into this downtown area, Wadsworth said.

While much of that has been devoted to commercial space for businesses, they saw some potential for turning certain sections of their buildings into living areas.

“Through the buildings we’ve purchased, we’ve found that the second floors were way underutilized,” Wadsworth said. “So we decided to have a commercial storefront on the first floor, then put seven apartments up top.”

Converting it from a concert venue to living spaces took some creativity, Wadsworth said. He has some experience with drafting, so he handled breaking the 40 feet wide-by-150 feet long space into individual apartments.

From that point, company provided the plans to its general contractor who started work on the physical structure. Seven efficiency lofts were built into the second floor of the Wigwam Building.

Each had a spacious main room with high ceilings and full kitchens in the middle. Laminate wood flooring made the spaces seem larger. An equally spacious bedroom with a large window provides natural light to supplement the canister lighting in the ceiling.

A full bathroom, a laundry room and a storage room all flow off of the main living space.

Being located in a historic building also sets the apartments apart, Wadsworth says. The large, 15-feet-high windows are something. He pointed out the sloping ceiling, a quirk of the original architecture, that new construction doesn’t have.

“You get these unique apartments. You’re not going to find this in any other cookie-cutter apartment,” he said.

The lofts have been most popular with young adults, either people who have just graduated from school and are returning to Franklin or current Franklin College students.

As more of the downtown area develops, including refurbished buildings along Jefferson Street, Wadsworth expects that a greater demand will emerge for simple living spaces featured in the Lofts @ the Wigwam.

“People really like walking down their steps and being right on the main drag, right in the middle of everything,” he said. “It’s awesome to be able to look out and see what’s going on,” he said.

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