North Laurel apartment complex gets long-awaited face-lift

December 10, 1993|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Staff Writer

Trucks loaded with new household appliances rumble through the streets around the Whiskey Bottom Apartments, a sign that long-awaited renovations finally are being made at the 22-year-old North Laurel housing complex.

Work inside the dilapidated 784-unit complex began Oct. 1, following a $32 million loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that pulled the apartments out of debt.

Replacement of the apartments' wood exteriors won't begin until spring. But workers have started repainting interior walls, retiling and recarpeting floors, and replacing washing machines, dryers and refrigerators.

In the bathrooms, there are new light and plumbing fixtures, along with new wall mirrors. Kitchen cabinets have been refinished, and some have been given new doors.

The interiors of 70 units have been completed, the complex's managers say. Workers are repairing about 35 units a month. The interiors and exteriors of all of the apartments are expected to be completed in two years.

"It's been a nightmare. . . . We expect, when it is complete, a totally changed environment from what it was," said Paul Rotondo, a senior vice president of Berkshire Property Management, which owns the complex.

The management firm, a subsidiary of the Berkshire Group, a Boston-based mortgage and management firm formerly called Krupp Companies, also owns a 304-unit complex across the street, called The Seasons, which already has undergone less extensive repairs.

When renovations at the Whiskey Bottom Apartments are complete, they will share the name The Seasons, Mr. Rotondo said.

The name change is part of the plan to overhaul the image, as well as the physical appearance, of Whiskey Bottom.

Residents have complained about drug activity at the run-down complex. They also have complained about homeless people sleeping in vacant units, which police have not been able to confirm.

Sheri Trammell, who lives in The Seasons and is chairwoman of the community's neighborhood watch program, said she is pleased to see work on the Whiskey Bottom Apartments' interiors. But she is impatient for the exterior work to be done.

"To be honest, it's the exteriors that really need work," Ms. Trammell said. "I don't think the interiors have been the really big thing. I saw one person's apartment; it looks like their porch is ready to fall off."

But Larry Deese, construction manager for Berkshire Property Management, said work on the exteriors will be done next spring, including replacement of the wood with vinyl siding.

In addition to repairs on the apartments, work is scheduled on the complex's swimming pools, tennis courts, basketball courts and clubhouses.

Whiskey Bottom Apartments filed for bankruptcy in April 1991. Berkshire Group fought for two years to get assistance to pay off loans on the property and to renovate the complex.

The company nearly lost the apartments when The Travelers, a Hartford, Conn.-based company that held the insurance policy pTC on the apartments, planned to auction the property unless the debt was paid.

In September of this year, HUD approved a $32 million loan for the apartments, with the assurance that Berkshire would spend at least $3 million of its own money to repair the worst parts of the complex. Berkshire plans to spend $9.4 million to enhance the apartments.

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