SEATTLE - The Pantages Apartments started with the saving of one landmark house and grew into significantly more.

It’s become home to low-income families, individuals transitioning out of homelessness, and people with AIDS. Along the way, the Pantages embraced the concept of green building, stressed good design, and uplifted its neighborhood.

The Pantages Apartments was selected as the best urban project by Affordable Housing Finance magazine readers.

Developed by the nonprofit Capitol Hill Housing, the project began with a three-story house that was built by vaudeville impresario Alexander Pantages in 1907. He founded the Pantages Theater chain in the late 1800s.

Other old homes in the neighborhood were being torn down, but Capitol Hill Housing leaders knew they wanted to save the Pantages house. In addition to rehabilitating the historic home, they built a new five-story building behind it. Designed by Stickney Murphy Romine Architects of Seattle, the new structure sits back from the sidewalk, maintaining the original home’s prominence. Without mimicking the house, the new building borrowed some of its key elements like the bay windows, and used compatible colors. The effect is that the new building serves as a backdrop and does not overwhelm the old house.

“We wanted the new development to be respectful of the original house,” said Chuck Weinstock, executive director of Capitol Hill Housing, a longtime affordable housing organization. The graceful design makes the point that development does not have to come at the cost of neighborhood character.

Together, the buildings provide 49 affordable apartments that serve residents with incomes topping out at between 30 percent and 50 percent of the area median income (AMI). Twenty of the new units are two- and three-bedroom apartments. The rest are one-bedroom and studio units. With a range of unit sizes, the Pantages is home to a mix of families with children, single individuals, and older people, mirroring the makeup of the surrounding neighborhood, according to Weinstock.

Turning green

The $11 million project is also unique because it was built in accordance with Seattle’s SeaGreen standards for environmentally conscious development. It has been recognized with a green design award from the American Institute of Architects.

In addition to using a long list of environmentally friendly products, developers recycled more than 86 percent of the construction waste. The project also prohibits smoking anywhere in the building, even inside the apartments. It’s close to public transportation, jobs, shopping, and public open spaces. And each of the units has free Internet access.

The Pantages has helped jump start other new development in the neighborhood. There are at least 10 projects in various stages of design and construction nearby.

The developers also added a touch of whimsy at the project with the inclusion of three life-size figures on the property. In a nod to the property’s history, artist Claudia Fitch created sculptures of vaudeville performers. These figures can be seen from the street and serve as an unexpected addition of public art to the neighborhood.

Preserving a historic building and including public art has helped the development become a community project, according to Weinstock.

All these components work together to create a special development, according to city officials. “We are proud of our $2.5 million investment in the Pantages,” said Seattle Office of Housing Director Adrienne Quinn. “Capitol Hill Housing has done a remarkable job of combining beautiful housing for some of the city’s lowest-income residents with historic preservation, public art, and significant sustainability features through the Office of Housing’s SeaGreen program.”

The financing layer cake

With a $220,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Sound Families Program, 11 of the units are reserved for families transitioning out of homelessness. Case management is provided through the local YWCA. Units set aside under this program have project-based Sec. 8 vouchers available.

Another 10 units are reserved for people with AIDS, and Capitol Hill Housing is partnering with Seattle’s Lifelong AIDS Alliance to provide services to these residents. Rents range from $375 to $657.

The Pantages is a classic study in leveraging multiple financing sources to cover the development costs, according to Weinstock. The result? Minimal debt, allowing the project to serve tenants at the 30 percent AMI level. The project’s only debt is an $800,000 permanent loan from U.S. Bank.

Other financing included more than $5.1 million in equity from low-income housing tax credits allocated by the Washington State Housing Finance Commission and syndicated by the National Equity Fund. Bank of America was the investor.

The project received a $1.5 million loan from the state housing trust fund and a $2.55 million loan from Seattle housing levy funds. In a show of support for affordable housing, city voters approved a seven-year, $86 million housing levy in 2002. The Seattle Housing Authority also supported the project.