The vacant Old Gayfers Building on Dauphin Street may soon receive its much-needed face-lift.
Nestled in between other historic buildings and Dauphin Street festivities, the Gayfers Building has been left vacant for almost the past 40 years. Now, Mayor Sandy Stimpson is looking to allocate approximately $8 million from Mobile’s cut of the America Rescue Plan (ARP) and put it towards the Gayfers building, turning it into low-income housing units with some commercial space on the first floor.
A quick introduction to Gayfers
Gayfers Department store used to be a jewel of Mobile. Founded in the Port City in 1879 and acquired by a national conglomerate in the 1950s, the store was a huge success/ It launched nationwide and became a huge shopping destination in the South. So popular, in fact, was common for fashionable young women in the South to be complimented as “Gayfer Girls.”
It only closed down in the 1980s, so many Mobilians have vivid memories of the magic inside Gayfers downtown.
As the very first Gayfers, the location on Dauphin Street was never up for demolition. Instead, it’s more of a matter of gathering all the necessary funds, which other projects have yet to do.
“People’s First” Plan & The Gayfers Building
Earlier this month, Mayor Sandy Stimpson unveiled his “People’s First” plan for use of American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds, federal funding of economic recovery after COVID-19. Of the $58.2 million allocated to Mobile, Mayor Sandy Stimpson is looking to invest $8 million of that towards the Gayfers Building.
Using examples like the Pizitz building in Birmingham, officials hope to marry the use of around eight different types of funds, like private loans, ARP funds, and Historic Tax Credits to renovate the building, for the price of about $25 million. Of course renovation will move forward with the help of the nonprofit Gulf Coast Housing Partnership, who acquired the Gayfers building in 2014 for the price of about $1.4 million.
As it stands now, the plan for the four-story building is to retain as much of its historic face as possible, while gutting the inside and converting the storefront space into 94 affordable-income, loft-style apartments. These units will be rent controlled and a majority reserved for what’s classified as low-income individuals–those who make about 60% of the median income for Mobile, or about $35,000 a year for a family of four. The Mobile Housing Authority also pledged $1 million towards the renovation in exchange for 19 units being set aside for extremely low-income residents (around $19,000/year for a family of four).
The overall hope for this plan is for lower income individuals who work downtown to be able to afford living close to work, possibly close enough to walk. This is in stark contrast to many previous renovation projects in Mobile, which focused on business spaces or higher-price-point residential spaces.
In a more recent virtual roundtable, concerns have been raised about the development’s location and goals. Teresa Bettis, a representative at the South Alabama Economic Roundtable, raised the concern that the area in and around the Gayfers building does not have high rates of poverty, especially in comparison to some other parts of the city. Essentially, the concern is that renovation of the Gayfers building as low-income housing is overlooking areas already in desperate need of that low-income housing.
The last of virtual sessions was held on July 13th, officials plan to have in-person meetings with City Council members to further flesh-out funding.
If approved this summer, officials hope to have funding secured by the end of the year. Renovation of this historic building would take a little over a year.