The blue sky of a midwinter afternoon appearing through the fourth-floor windows at 118 Northampton St. in Easton says all you once needed to know about the more than 100-year-old building.
But just a floor below, there is fresh lumber creating ceiling joists where recently there were none.
Borko Milosev, a Wilson Area High School and Moravian College graduate who redeveloped his first residential property while a college student, has been interested in 118-120 Northampton St. for more than three years.
But as for “swinging hammers,” the real work has only been underway for a few weeks, he said.
For the past 10 years, Milosev, through Post Road Management, has taken on projects “nobody wants to touch.”
“That’s been sort of what I specialize in,” he said. “Taking on a different level of distress.”
Distressed would be an understatement about the gutted Northampton Street buildings that have been vacant and deteriorating for more than 20 years. They seemed to have more potential as parking lots than the future site of 14 apartments and two retail businesses.
The city a few years ago came up with grant money to shore up the facade, Mayor Sal Panto Jr. said. Federal money is now in the mix as well, Milosev said.
He closed on the buildings in September for $160,000.
He hopes to complete the restoration project by early this fall, but there’s no roof at 118 Northampton St. and there hasn’t been for years.
“The framers we have are moving extremely well,” said Milosev, who came to Wilson as an exchange student from Serbia. “They’re already putting up the third-floor deck. In a week or two the roof framing will be in place. If it wasn’t for weather, we’d have a roof on within the month.”
Work is going on simultaneously at the connected buildings which once sat next to the Terminal Hotel — which is a parking lot for the nearby Grand Eastonian. Milosev bought a parking lot across the street as part of this project.
A mention of 118 Northampton St. is found as early as 1880, but architects believe it was “substantially” rebuilt in 1920, Milosev said. The reason it survived into present day with its guts ripped out is it is a steel building, Milosev explained. The brick, which is visible to the back of the building, is ornamental, not structural, he said. The I-beams do the work of keeping the building standing, he said.
The building at 120 Northampton dates to 1850, he said.
He is also working on two other properties on the block — 133-135 and 137-139 — and while the idea is the same, the level of distress is not so severe, he admits. “The potential wasn’t (being) maximized,” he said of those buildings near the Easton Cafe.
And while millennials are the sought-after demographic for the Downtown apartment boom, Milosev isn’t limiting his vision to a certain age group, although they remain the target audience.
He sees the “boutique” buildings at 118-120 as as opportunity to create something more memorable than some of the bigger Downtown redevelopments.
“We hired an interior designer” whose work has been seen in Vogue magazine, said Milosev, who won the Moravian College Alumni Association’s Young Alumni Award in 2014. “The designer will do some finishing touches to make it a little funky and hip.”
The one- and two-story apartments — beginning at about 900 square feet — were thought to rent between $950 and $1,200. But they might cost renters more because other redevelopments are drawing higher amounts, he said.
“He sees what it can be, not what it is,” Panto said of Milosev, who is also the redeveloper of the Hogtown building just south of the Simon Silk Mill project and just north of Route 22 on 13th Street. Milosev also is looking to redo Lehigh Manor on the city’s South Side and has done bigger projects in Wilson Borough and Whitehall Township.
Milosev, 34, who lives in Whitehall, has been a full-time developer since 2012, but has been in business in the area at least part-time since 2005. Another Moravian grad, Robert Verrone, gave Milosev his start as a New York City banker — first as an intern, later as a full-time employee — but four years ago Milosev moved back to the Valley.
To take on projects no one else would.
“We are finally executing on a plan we put in a place about a year ago” for 118-120 Northampton St., he said.
“Somebody’s got to do it, right?” he said with a laugh.
The buildings’ beauty is obvious, their potential less so.
The rear of 120 Northampton St. is as open as the fourth floor of 118. There’s only one wall — and that’s being held up with graying lumber as part of the initial facade effort — but Milosev plans to add three walls.
For Panto, the redevelopment is a simple solution.
“It follows our philosophy,” the mayor said. “Any building that can be saved will be.”