Construction is ongoing at the Uneeda Lofts, 711 Milam Street, and as they say, the ‘devil’s in the details.’ Washer/Dryer units arrived and were installed last week, and the thousand punch list items are being attended to, and that means plans will be forthcoming soon on expected leasing/move in dates.
The management team says rental rates and availabilities will drop soon. If you are interested, they ask you sign up at www.uneedalofts.com
The team also has a nice Facebook page that is keeping everyone up to date on progress and includes photos and videos of some of the units.
Ask anyone who has ever done a construction project- especially a historic rehab – if they have had a problem child, a project that took longer than anticipated, a project that just seemed to refuse to get completed and they will have one.
For the team of Fairfield Management and Brown Builders that amazing, somewhat terrifying, costly, and completely wonderful project has been the Uneeda Biscuit, or, more technically correct, the Vordenbauman Eastham Building at 709-711 Milam Street.
The building has long been a landmark in downtown Shreveport. It is a cherished and beloved building that when built in 1902 was the tallest privately owned structure in Shreveport. It sat next to the-then Central Fire Station, whose firefighters refused to sleep in their two story station as this behemoth of a five-story building was being constructed next door, for fear that the tall brick wall would collapse and smoosh them as they slumbered.
Over the years, the Vordenbauman-Eastham building would serve as many things- as a store that sold hardware, horse carriages, and general merchandise. It was once a National Guard armory, a furniture store, an art gallery and then, for years, sat vacant. In the months after hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit coastal Louisiana, the building was sold to a man from New Jersey intent on acquiring some of the substantial federal rebuilding dollars flowing into the state to start a business there, but no money flowed to him and no business opened and the building remained vacant and unmaintained.
It became, according to Uneeda Lofts developer Edward Taylor, the classic issue downtown; the ‘absentee owner.’ “It is probably one of the biggest issues you see,” says Taylor, referring to the Downtown Development Authority. He is right. It was a case in which the absentee owner either did not know or did not care that the building had developed a small roof leak. The problem is that small leaks never stay small.
When Taylor and his team finally managed to purchase 711 Milam, the 2nd-5th floors had collapsed inward and were sitting on the ground floor. Giant old growth columns had punched through the interior floors and the building was collapsing in on itself.
The project was daunting, even for a team familiar with historical rehabilitation projects. They called in a structural engineer from North Carolina familiar with heavy timber historical construction and their building’s specific issues to assist. It was not outside the realm of possibility to lose the building while trying to save it if everything was not handled ‘just so.’
“The repairs just to get the building back to structural soundness was in the low millions (of dollars),” Taylor confirms. Projects such as this are never for the faint of heart or light of wallet.
The before and after is remarkable. The debris is gone, and now when you walk through the front door onto the first floor, you are greeted with a view that would not have been out of place in 1902. Original columns and railings have been used in an area that will serve as an art gallery/exhibition space. The leasing office has a view of the front door and behind it are four unique loft style apartments.
The four apartments on the first floor as well as the four on the ground floor (the basement level is below the grade of the street but level with the adjacent parking lot) are two-level lofts with large windows and ample natural light. The square footage of these residences varies a bit, but all are one-bedroom with a living area and kitchen with appliances, large closets and washer/dryer. Typical ceiling heights throughout all units on the first through fifth floors range from 15-17 feet.
On levels two through five, the apartments have the same layouts floor by floor- all are 1 BD/ 1 BA with appliances. There will be on-site management and entry into the building will be restricted to tenants via a security key code system. Tenants will be responsible for utilities and rental rates are still being finalized.
Ample parking is available in the Uneeda-owned lot next door, on the street after 5 pm and before 8 am M-F, Saturday and Sunday, in a parking garage 1/2 block away, and for a small fee in a parking lot across Milam street.
The building survived the low point in its history and has been renewed in a remarkable way. Brown Builders’ project manager David Pratt loves the historical ‘artifacts’ he has discovered during the job- the fact that the walls and wall colors on each floor are different. One floor has plaster, one is red brick, one is white.
He points out the thickness of the building’s walls- more than two solid feet of brick, and talks about the differences in rebuilding old buildings and new construction. “On new construction, when we get a set of plans, we build exactly what is drawn. That’s not possible in an older building because there are so many unknowns. It was a challenge just to find a contractor to knock out the opening for windows- how do you accomplish that (when the walls are so thick)?”
This was a build unlike any other Taylor and Brown Builders and their partners had ever encountered- from structural unknowns to Covid shutdowns and labor shortages, to supply chain delays. One piece of the puzzle, the elevator (on back order since Sept. 2022) should be arriving in April. When it finally arrives, the final piece of the puzzle- the appliances- can be installed.
Taylor is excited about the opening of the Lofts and the long-term potential. “It will bring more activity to downtown Shreveport,” he says, “and will help support small businesses like Rhino Coffee and others with foot traffic. It will help support other activities downtown and will provide a unique residential option- there’s not anything much like this.”
Taylor is correct. Each building rehabbed for residential downtown has its own unique feel and look; all vastly different one to the next. The Uneeda Lofts will be a welcome addition to downtown and the community.
As with all projects, there are those who helped make it possible and Taylor wants to note them.
- Louisiana Housing Corporation – Steven Jackson and Board, Josh Hollins and team
- Home Federal Bank
- Regions Bank
- Newman Marchive
- Brown Builders
- City of Shreveport – Bonnie Moore, Mayor’s Office, City Council
- Shreveport Home Mortgage Authority (now known as the Northwest Louisiana Finance Authority)
- Downtown Development Authority – Liz Swaine and team
- Shreveport Regional Arts Council – Pam Atchison and team
- Shreveport Common – Wendy Benscoter and team
- Fairfield Property Management
Of the 32 units, half will be market rate and the others will be ‘workforce’ (salary-limited) housing. To get your name on the waiting list, contact us or Shreveport Common. We will help compile the names and turn them over to Uneeda Lofts’ management team. As of right now, the soonest move-in will be available is the first of June, 2023.
We are forever grateful that this beautiful and historic building has been saved and we look forward to its NEXT 100 years downtown!
Posted October 7, 2021
After more than a year of stabilization work on the very compromised Uneeda Biscuit building at 711 Milam Street, construction crews have launched the ‘fun’ part of the job… rehab that will turn the structure into 32 spacious 1-bedroom apartment units geared toward artists and other creatives. Developer Edward Taylor is serious about attracting tenants who will blend in with the vibe of the Shreveport Common Art and Culture District that surrounds the Uneeda. “The whole reason behind this is the artspace (Minnesota) report on Shreveport Common that showed artist housing in the area was wanted,” he says. Taylor says the timeline for the apartment opening is late 2022/early 2023, but pre-applications on the spaces will be available sooner.
We’ve always loved the irony that one of downtown’s most loved buildings is known for a painted ad for an item that was never sold there. The building at 711 Milam that is most commonly known as the ‘Uneeda Biscuit’ building started life as the Vordenbauman-Eastham Company building, and for years was the Marcus building for the furniture store that did business there. In 2023, it will reopen as the Uneeda Lofts, 32 one-bedroom units, housing both salary-limited and market rate rental spaces for artists and other creative professionals.
Developers Edward Taylor & Wayne Brown say the construction to date has been challenging and slow because the building was in worse shape than anticipated. Over the past decade, an absentee owner deferred maintenance on a small roof leak. Untended small roof leaks never heal themselves and often end up compromising a building to the point that it is beyond saving. This one came close.
Taylor & his partners have been dealing with not only substantial structural concerns, but five interior floors that had partially collapsed due to the wet interior conditions. The building now has a new roof, the building is shored up, and the structure for the fire-rated stairwell leading from the basement to the fifth floor is completed. Taylor says the unexpected complications, and later, Covid, created a significant delays but all is now on track with no changes to the interior plans. The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) is also on board and has told the developers to proceed with their construction. That is good news for this building and downtown.
When it was constructed in 1902, the five-story orange brick structure overshadowed everything around it, and for a time it was the tallest privately-owned building in the city. Over the years, you could purchase everything under the sun there– from horse-drawn carriages and brass cuspidors to shotguns and screen doors. It was home to a carriage and hardware shop (1913) an armory for the National Guard (1917), a warehouse (1923), a grocery (1926), a furniture store (1933-1952), and an art gallery (2006), but its next incarnation is the one that will save it for the next generation.
When finished the Uneeda Biscuit Lofts will house 32- 600 square foot one-bedroom apartments with brick walls, wood floors, natural light and high ceilings. Upon entrance to the building via a large glass front door on Milam Street, you will be greeted by a leasing office and other open offices, including possible commercial rental space and tenant amenities such as a lounge and artist work space. A stairwell on the first floor will lead to a mezzanine that will feature gallery and display space for the artist residents. A full basement will also include artist work space. The vacant lot next door, once home to another historic building, will be used for parking and perhaps a tenant greenspace.
The lofts are perfectly situated on one of the prettiest blocks downtown with amenities such as the beautiful Asian Gardens, the Strand Theater, Emmett Hook Performance Center, Central ARTstation, artspace, Robinson Film Center, Rhino Coffee, Caddo Common park, and Every Man a King Distillery all within quick walking distance. The rehab is a much-needed new day for the old Uneeda building. We are thrilled to see it not only saved but put back into use as an art-filled residential hub in downtown’s western edge.
The plan is that the artists in the building will play a role in the rebirth of the 9-block Shreveport Common art and culture district, which is a small corner of Downtown’s larger Cultural District. These artists will be encourage to manufacture, display and sell their wares downtown, participate in art walks and Shreveport Regional Arts Council and Shreveport Common events, and become a part of the downtown scene. In the next months, there will be opportunities to fill out pre-applications for the apartment spaces and perhaps even to stake a claim on a particular unit. Stay tuned for more to come!