Couple aims to renovate historic building for small businesses
Ben Greening and Lauren Metts are the new owners of the old laundromat at Spring Street and Walnut Avenue. The couple plans to renovate the second floor for apartment rental space and renovate the two buildings to offer rental space for small businesses.
By LINDSAY MCREYNOLDS | HERALD-CITIZEN in Putnam County, TN
An 80-year-old Cookeville landmark that's been vacant for decades has new owners.
Engaged couple Lauren Metts, an architect, and Ben Greening, an electrician, recently purchased the old laundromat on the corner of Spring Street and Walnut Avenue for $290,000 from the J L Watts family.
Watts operated Spring Street Laundromat and North Side Laundry for many years. He died in 2016, and his son listed the building for sale two years later.
Lauren, the daughter of architect Peter Metts, said they'd spent a lot of time looking for renovation projects in the downtown Cookeville area when she saw the sign in the laundromat window.
"We enjoyed going through the motions of purchasing the building," Lauren said last week. "We got to talk to the owners, and they gave us a little history."
Everyone they've talked to has stories about the building.
"It was a dairy, then it was Pepsi," Lauren said. "We want to pay tribute to that."
"It's got potential from A to Z," Lauren said of the space and what could go in it. "We're open to a lot of different things."
Peter said, "It's totally captivating to hear these stories."
They talked about renovating the top floor for an apartment they could rent out. One of the rooms on the top level has a wooden wall with the "Cookeville Planing Mill" imprint in the wood.
Peter said he'd love to see a bakery in the first floor of the building.
Lauren and Greening, along with Greening's brother and Lauren's parents, toured the building Saturday showing some of its historic and unusual features.
It's actually two buildings put together, more than 7,000 square feet of floor space.
"The bones of the building are awesome," Lauren said.
More than 60 laundry machines are still in the building, including a couple of large extractors used to remove moisture from rugs. Peter said he'd like to refurbish a couple of the machines, but the majority will have to be moved.
"This is what sold me on it," Lauren said of the second building that has a large open interior, high ceilings and several large windows in the front that extend nearly from the floor to the ceiling.
That building also has a manhole in the center of the floor, something unusual they saw when touring the building.
"We'll change the rim and cap on the manhole," Peter said. "That will be sealed. Unless there's a catastrophic event, it'll never be opened."
Lauren talked about the possibility of moving the front wall of the second building back from Spring Street to create a patio area.
They've also asked about the building's potential at the city's planning department.
"The City of Cookeville has been incredibly helpful," Peter said. "They bent over backwards. They sent a robot down the (sewer) line."
Lauren said, "Because it potentially has so many problems, we've talked to the water/sewer department, public works."
They also have some experience with renovating older buildings.
Peter and Lauren recently renovated a 100-year-old home on 4th Street.
"We find the property that has the most potential that's difficult to see," Peter said.
Peter has been involved with about a half dozen other renovation projects of older buildings, including Crawdaddy's and the space for his office, AEI.
"After renovating these properties, there's just not a whole lot that scares us," Peter said.
"My dad and I did a lot of the older homes we lived in," said Peter, who's been an architect since 1989. "We renovated an old post-Civil War home in Mississippi."
Cookeville Planning Director Jon Ward said, "As long as they comply with the zoning code, they can do whatever the CL (local commercial) district allows."
Of course, one of the concerns on the quarter of an acre property is parking.
Ward said off-premise parking is allowed in the local commercial zone, but it requires a written agreement between the property owners.
"We're going to go through the motions of schematic design, clear the things we don't want to keep, submit plans to the city," Lauren said about their next steps for the building. "It'll end up happening in phases.
"We're hoping that people who need a small amount or large amount of space will approach us," she said.
Peter said, "It's a great location. It's destined for that area to be developed."