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story.lead_photo.caption These are some of the items found inside the walls of what will become the Gateway Apartments as the Wright brothers were tearing them out, including a coke bottle stamped with the date Dec. 25, 1923. (Photo by Michael V. Wilson)

The father and son team of Jeffrey A. Wright and Christian T. Wright are constructing 20 to 25 new apartments and lofts to the downtown area in the building at 401 E. Broad St. that Belk-Jones Department Store once occupied. Built around 1901, the location has variously been the W. B. Branch Dry Goods, Wooten's Department Store, then Belk-Jones, M&M Fabrics & Antique Mall, Audrey's Custom Alterations, the short-lived Purple Rain nightclub, and most recently, the Coliseum nightclub.

Now it's slated to become one and two-story apartments and lofts, some of them 1,200 square feet in size, along with a street-front fenced-in patio/sitting area facing Broad Street, community room, fitness room, and a rooftop patio and entertainment area. Christian Wright says some of the smaller apartments will be set aside for listing on Airbnb, and the Wrights already have space for tenant parking leased at the end of the block, on the corner of Broad and Hazel streets. The building will be renamed the Gateway Apartments.

The Wrights plan on tearing off the white exterior, fiberglass facade that presently faces Broad and Walnut streets to expose the original brick. They'll also remove the crumbling facade facing the alley between the building and City Hall.

This I-beams runs between the first two floors of what will eventually become the Gateway Apartments. Construction is expected to be completed in a year to 18 months. (Photo by Michael V. Wilson)

These are not affordable housing units such as the ones that were recently rejected for the Pleasant Grove area, the elder Wright said. The father and son team haven't yet determined what the rents will be once the renovation is complete, but said they'll be listed at full market value.

The renovation has already cost $100,000 dollars and is projected to take half a million by the time it's done. Inside, the Wrights discovered multiple layers of walls built up over the decades of the building's lifetime. While tearing them out they discovered all sorts of interesting objects inside the walls: children's shoes, a leftover sign advertising a boy's knit shirt for $1.88, and a coke bottle with Texarkana, Texas, embossed on the bottom, along with the date of Dec. 25, 1923, stamped on the side of it.

They also discovered working windows when they got back down to the original brick, which means quite a few of the new apartments will have natural light coming in.

The Wrights are determined that no two apartments will have the same layout or features. Some will have marble floors, others hardwood. Some will have granite counter tops in the kitchen and others will have stainless steel. The apartments on the first floor will have two levels and the largest apartments, on the second floor, will have vaulted 10-12 foot ceilings, some with hardwood on them. Re-purposed 2- by 8-inch beams will be used for the door trim on some of the units.

A completion date has not been established, in part because they work part-time as building inspectors for FEMA. After a hurricane strikes anywhere in the country they're called to inspect buildings in the affected area. While they're away, the building stands empty and nothing is done on it. With this in mind, they hope to be done in the next 12-18 months.

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