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One of the most unusual buildings in York City will soon be finished in its conversion from a farm-equipment factory to a high-end apartment building.

Distinct Property Management will have the Keystone Color Works building at 175 W. Gay Ave. ready for renters May 1, and already has several lessors, said Jordan Ilyes, who co-owns the business.

Ilyes said renters have been set up for five of the 29 units that will comprise the building, which was constructed in 1873.

According to the Distinct Property website, Empire Car Works originally manufactured rail cars there for about 20 years, before the Keystone Farm Machine Co. bought the building and began making farm equipment. In 1919, Keystone Color Works Inc. — whose name the building still bears in big white letters on a faded black strip along its side — took the triangular brick building over and began making wallpaper colors, mica and paint.

It had long been vacant until 2014, when Distinct bought it from the city's redevelopment authority and began re-appropriating it into an offbeat apartment building.

"It’s an amazing building," Ilyes said.

The apartments will feature plenty of brick and big beams, as well as modern amenities such as free wifi, a fitness room and high-efficiency heating and cooling. There's gated on-site parking for residents.

The building will have a "green roof" with plants growing on it.

"There’s not enough places for green in the city," Ilyes said.

Distinct also wrangled out an old, 30,000-pound boiler that's 8 feet wide and 12 feet long, and they plan on welding it to the patio and using it as a bar, said Ilyes, who, along with co-owner Seth Predix, does much of the construction work alongside his employees.

After they wrap up work on this project, they'll soon move onto the Elm Terrace apartments on the corner of Madison Street and Elm Terrace. The 47-unit building has been vacant for a few years, and Ilyes and Predix plan on turning it into apartments that will go for $600 to $1,200 a month. That work will be done in two stages, Ilyes said, with them spending six to eight months on one seven-story tower and then the same on the other.

Ilyes said they have found plenty of demand for all the apartments they manage, which include the existing Cityview Lofts at 815 N. George St.

"We’re very optimistic, very happy," Ilyes said.

Ilyes said most of the people interested in moving into the Color Works building are young professionals, who increasingly want to live in cities.

That's consistent with the findings of an independent "residential market feasibility analysis" commissioned by Downtown Inc for the city's central business district, the 26-or-so-block area around the city's center. The report, which the D.C.-based Real Property Research Group published in May 2015, found there was solid demand for rental property around the area, and it would continue in recent years. Even accounting for the Color Works project and others that were also at that point in the pipeline, the report concluded there is a demand for an additional 103 rental units over the following three years.

Calling the downtown area "an appealing environment that already offers a walkable urban experience," with a good mix of restaurants, shops and entertainment, the report said the area was ready for more residential expansion in the form of rental properties.

The report suggested these rental units around the downtown area would appeal to young professionals, young couples and older people, and could be less appealing to families.

— Reach Sean Cotter at scotter@yorkdispatch.com.

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