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Nearby amenities already include the ISU track complex, a $4.3 million facility that opened in 2014, along with Imperial Lanes bowling alley and gas stations a few blocks east. The addition of apartments overlooking the Wabash could inspire new businesses and startups to locate near the residences. Those, said Shelley Klingerman, executive director of Launch Terre Haute, could include a small grocery store or pharmacy, a dock bar, water sports rentals (such as kayaks, canoes, pontoon rides or party barges), food trucks parked on the riverfront on Fridays or during festivals and special events, casual waterfront restaurants and pubs or coffeehouses.

“I’m confident it’s just a matter of time before you see people starting to pursue their dreams and ideas” along the riverfront, she said. “It will be the second and third new businesses that start a movement. I can’t wait to watch the transformation.”

The transformation of the old factory has been dramatic, as well. Reactions from former employees of Pillsbury, which made food products such as cake and gravy mixes, impressed Eric Seal, a developer for Core. Seal gave tours last week to those retired Pillsbury workers.

Tribune-Star/Austen Leake On the banks of the Wabash: Riverfront Lofts, which is being transformed from the former American Can/Pillsbury/ICON building into a unique living space, offers this northern view of the Wabash River and a railroad bridge. Austen Leake

Elements of the structure, preserved in the conversion, keep it recognizable to longtime Hauteans. Its design fits an industrial version of art deco, though that distinction probably sounds a bit highfalutin to the hundreds of workers who toiled inside its 15- to 18-inch thick concrete walls. Core adapted the apartments’ configurations around the 186,000-square-foot building’s quirky features. Such flexible vision is routine for Core, the company that turned Indianapolis’ vacant and antiquated Bush Stadium — also built in 1931 — into the present Stadium Lofts. The minor league Indianapolis Indians once played in that stadium on 16th Street in Indy.

So, when Core crews began carving out the center of the factory — from its rooftop to the ground floor — to create a spectacular exposed atrium and realized the concrete floors and supports were immensely thick and replete with rebar, they brainstormed and kept going. “You’re kind of wed to doing that,” Seal said. As diamond-blade saws began cutting, the concrete’s weight caused it to rip, rather than neatly slice apart. Chunks tumbled one and two stories downward. Preliminary cuts to each section helped steady the process.

They also discovered a slope in the first floor of the 300-foot-long building. The slope was gradual, but totals 30 inches from north to south. “It sloped enough that doors wouldn’t be lined up with each other. You would’ve had things rolling. It wouldn’t work. You would notice,” Seal said. They poured new concrete to level the slope, which was originally used so American Can workers could easily push large rolls of metal.

Nation also sees fiscal benefits. “These projects go back on the property rolls, which is good for the future,” he said. The North First Street area is one of three focuses of Riverscape, along the west-bank Wabashiki wetlands and the southside industrial corridor. Plans continue for recreation, extensions of the National Road Heritage Trail, and the Turn to the River project to connect downtown to the riverfront.

For now, the first 30 renters of Riverfront Lofts units represent a “really diverse mix” of people, said Core property manager Mechelle Padgett. Retirees, downsizing empty-nesters, young professionals and couples are part of the initial influx. They’ll pay between $649 and $1,649 a month for one-, two- or three-bedroom units, which range in size from 520 to 1,600 square feet each.

Padgett, who also manages another Core makeover project, The Deming (a college student-oriented complex at Sixth and Cherry streets), is impressed to watch an eyesore abandoned factory become a catalyst for greater accessibility to the community’s most famous natural resource. “The goal is to give the Wabash River, which had such a bad stigma, a new” image, she said.