The Ponce De Leon Roars Back To Life

The Ponce De Leon will include an outside terrace for tenants.
The Ponce De Leon will include an outside terrace for tenants.

What developer Faisal Kahn did at 401 West Campbell (401 Lofts), turning a timeworn property into apartments and retail space, is now taking place on a much grander scale at the corner of Campbell Avenue and Second Street.

The building that most Roanokers know as the Crystal Tower office building – formerly a hotel – will come back to like as apartments and retail space. It will do that using the name it had as a hotel – the Ponce De Leon. When he drove by the building 18 months ago, then owned by Total Action Against Poverty, Kahn was enamored: “there was no doubt driving down Campbell that this was a historic structure.”

Kahn, who is the front man while his father John is content to remain in the background, has been working with contractors to peel back wall and floor coverings over the past year, bringing to light terrazzo flooring with intricate designs, decorative ceilings and a working fountain in the main lobby depicting a Spanish galleon.

“It was a big shock to uncover this,” said Faisal of the treasures unearthed so far. The structure was built in 1931, replacing one from the 1890’s that had burned down. It was adjoining a six-story addition that had survived the fire. In one space a large pile of wood strip flooring that had been taken up will be reconditioned and used again.

In the basement Kahn will bring back to life the wishing well, which pumped in water from Lick Run, a small underground spring that runs under the property. Reportedly the stone well used to be stocked with trout that the Ponce De Leon would offer in its restaurant. Kahn said there is some interest in bringing back a restaurant that would also occupy the former ballroom space off the main lobby. “I’d [also] like to have a coffee shop,” said Kahn.

Kahn showed off the building recently, which still has almost a year of renovations to go. The target date for opening is August 2014. It will offer 90 apartments, mostly one bedroom, ground floor commercial spaces, a fitness center for residents, an outdoor rooftop terrace with views of downtown and onsite parking.

Kahn said the rental prices will be priced at the “market rate,” comparable to other rental units in the growing downtown community.  Waldvogel Commercial Properties is handling the apartment leasing for the project and is pursuing leads for parties interested in the retail space.

Besides the 401 Lofts that Kahn opened last year, the former Merita Bread building further west on Campbell, currently home to Brickhouse Crossfit, is another Kahn property that will be remade. Kahn is confident that the Ponce De Leon project “will help drive revitalization on this upper end of Campbell Avenue.” Several other residential projects in the vicinity, including the Fulton Motor Lofts, Candy Factory and Campbell Garage Lofts have also helped push downtown past the market area in recent years.

Historic tax credits will help fund the Ponce de Leon makeover, meaning the Kahns have to retain much of the original designs and handiwork in order to qualify. That’s right up Faisal Kahn’s alley: “I love antique auctions [and] restoring old things,” he said. The tax credits said Kahn, “[bridge] the funding gap and push it into the positive.”

By Gene Marrano