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Renovated downtown building open for business

POSTED: April 14, 2014 11:52 p.m.

The side doorway inside Mark Lusink's downtown Lula building is shown as he began restoration in 2012.

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An old red brick building in downtown Lula is once again open for business after decades of neglect.

Lula resident Mark Lusink bought the building about a year ago after he got tired of seeing it boarded up and falling apart.

“I had lived here about seven years at the time and this building was always boarded up,” Lusink said. “Frankly, I wanted to do something to help get the town going again.”

Built in 1884, the building was originally a dry goods store on the first floor and an apartment upstairs where the store owner lived. It has suffered years’ worth of water and structural damage since it was last occupied sometime in the 1970s.

Over the years, the hill behind the property slowly eroded, causing the ground level to rise and rainwater to drain into the building’s air vents, where it would travel under the structure and gush out of two vents in the front.

“(The water) had rotted out a lot of the joists and the substructure,” Lusink said. “We started out by replacing all of that, and then we had to build a wall to keep the water from coming into the building.”

In addition, the mortar in the brick walls had decayed, causing the walls to bow outward, the floors of the second story to shift and the inside walls to tilt. To fix this, Lusink replaced the mortar and had metal rods installed that attached the front wall to the back of the building, which held it in place.

As much of the original building as possible was kept intact. The doors and second-story banisters were cleaned and repaired, and the ceiling, which had old paint hanging off it, was sandblasted and resealed. Lusink also had to install new plumbing and electrical systems, insulation and thermal window panes to bring the structure up to modern housing codes.

After all that, the ground level was completed and opened for business last month, with the second story due to follow in the next 30 days. Both levels were rented by Matt Christopher and Aaron Lee, owners of the custom apparel and promotions shop 2Graphic.

“We started this business in 2010, and every year we were able to grow in one way or another,” Christopher said. “We worked out of my house, and this year we decided to move into the city to get more exposure.”

“It’s been very profitable for us. Just in the month we’ve been here, we can tell a huge difference.”

The pair will move into the apartment upstairs as soon as it is completed.

Lusink’s project has also garnered support from the city government, which is attempting to revive the downtown district by building the Veterans Park and planning a number of streetscape and drainage projects.

“We try to plant the seeds and get out of the way of private enterprise because they do a better job of it than we do,” said Lula City Manager Dennis Bergin. “(Lusink) is a good example of that.

“He’s made a good investment, and it looks like it is going to pay off for him in the long run.”

The city plans to invest close to $1 million over several years in downtown development, Bergin said.

As for Lusink, he said he hopes to purchase and renovate another closed building.

“My wife and I always wanted to rebuild a building,” he said, “and we’ve enjoyed it.

“So from here, we’re going to do some other buildings. Hopefully right here in Lula to help bring it back to life.”


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