Port Huron is becoming a popular place to work, socialize, and now, thanks in large part to the Witt family, live. Over the last eleven years, they have taken old structures in the city and recreated them into lofts and retail spaces.
Investing in Port Huron
It all began with Georgina Witt’s excitement as the building that housed one of her favorite businesses in Port Huron, a giftEach loft site offers something different for residents shop called Harris House, went up for sale. In 2006, she purchased the building while her husband, Dave, was in their second home in Aruba. He found out via phone call.
"I told him I bought the building and was going to build lofts,"Georgina says. "He and everyone else thought I was nuts.”
It became McKeough Lofts, six units and retail, which are prospering today.
"When the stock market took a serious downturn, I took some money and bought the first building. I decided that rather than watch my investments bottom out, I would invest in buildings and be able to see something standing in front of me,"Georgina says.
A year later with the next purchase, Tecumseh Place Lofts, Georgina’s enthusiasm caught on, and Dave came home to work on more living spaces. Dave and Georgina have six investments now, including Georgina’s favorite, Noord Apartments, a Victorian four loft house acquired in 2012.
Georgina and her son, Stephen of Sanctum Contracting, purchased the Little Blue Duplex in 2011. The couple and their son have invested in three other projects, totaling 23 lofts and including the Citadel, along with retail. Altogether, the family has accumulated 52 living units, 15 retail spaces, a theater, and Zebra Lounge and Lanes.
Commitment to community
MidTown Lofts are the Witts' most recent investmentTheir most recent project is called MidTown Lofts, located at 411 Grand River Ave. Construction began late in 2016. The property boasts two 2-bedroom units at $950/month, and another for $850/month with one bedroom, all are rented out. They sit above a 3,000 square foot commercial space that remains for lease.
People are moving into the lofts as soon as they are built. So, who is moving into these spaces? Georgina says good number of her tenants are young professionals, as well as border patrol security.
"I think they’re interested in loft living because it is a little bit different than anything else. This is usually their stop before they think about buying a home,"she says. "The lofts are always full, we always have people inquiring. We’re lucky.”
Georgina says almost any building with a good structure and good foundation can be used for lofts.
"If it has the right person working on it can be a good building. It just takes imagination and hard work,"Georgina says.
She considers Steve "somewhat of a genius"when it comes to envisioning how a building can be renovated. He is in charge of most of the construction and makes suggestions on cabinetry and color schemes, which go along with Georgina’s themes and décor.
Keeping it unique
The Witts' lofts are not cookie-cutter; they vary in their structure, aesthetics and tone. Some are luxurious, and others more casual. Some were houses, while others were businesses. But the interior decorating always begins with an evaluation of the history of the space, even for the more industrial looking properties.
McKeough Lofts offer a great view of Port Huron and the St. Clair River.The building that houses MidTown Lofts is more than 100 years old. It was originally a bakery, most recently an antique shop, and hosted many other businesses in between. The bakery’s vintage dough machine was creatively topped with a piece of granite to create a custom countertop in one loft. Another uses the large pulley that ran the dough mixing beaters as a hanging decoration.
Steve’s wife, Michelle of Sanctum Contracting, works on grant applications, searches for community resources, and does paperwork to aid the Witts' investments. Façade grants, the city of Port Huron’s approval of Neighborhood Enterprise Zone Revitalization certificates and its Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act, and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Community Revitalization Program grant have all been taken advantage of to make these renovations become a reality over the years.
With the Witts' quick progress, Georgina says there aren’t too many buildings left for loft development.
"I’m always open for options, and we have looked at other areas, but so far nothing has come into play,"she says.
When the Witt family first started bringing lofts to the area, the city was hardly even in the beginning stages to grow into what it currently is. Now, the biggest challenge the Witts face is parking because there is so much happening downtown.
Somebody had to be the one to start building places for people to not just visit Port Huron, but stay in the heart of it. Georgina’s original idea expanded into such an amazing benefit for the city.
"It does give you a lot of satisfaction to stand back and see what we have done. We took buildings that were falling apart and nobody wanted them. We fixed them, and now they’re going to live another hundred years," Georgina says.