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PROVO — When Greg Soter drove past a historic church in the heart of downtown Provo and saw a "for sale" sign on the lawn, he realized it was his opportunity to save a historical property from becoming just another relic from the past.
The nearly century-old building, located on the corner of 400 N. and 100 W., is something of a landmark in Provo, originally having housed the Provo 4th ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. About 30 years ago, the ward built a new meetinghouse a few blocks away, leaving the building to be used first as a private school and later as a wedding reception center.
Construction of the building began in 1915, but went on a four-year hiatus for World War I. The 1925 dedication was performed by Church President Heber J. Grant and included door prizes: a lifetime Sheaffer Pen set, a 1925 Chevrolet and a live bull.
A walk through the old building reveals forgotten artifacts that hearken back to the culture of the past: a sparkling crystal-and-garnet chandelier hangs from the ceiling of a small women's restroom; a miniature pulpit still stands on the rust-colored carpet in what once must have been a primary room — the Sunday meeting place for LDS children. Yellow-green wallpaper, faded now from years of sun exposure, still decorates the walls of a tiny nursery. All hidden behind the red-brick walls of an unused and largely ignored — but still pristine — former LDS church.
It was a culture that Soter felt he had to preserve when he purchased the building. He made no plans to alter the existing structure, choosing instead to preserve and protect the red-brick facade. On the inside, though, he wanted to go upscale and modern.
I realize this isn't New York, and it's not San Francisco, but when people walk in I want them look around and say, ‘Wow, that's not what I expect to find in Provo.'
"I had this idea in my brain that said, ‘Somebody needs to put some really cool apartments in there,'" he said. "I realize this isn't New York, and it's not San Francisco, but when people walk in I want them look around and say, ‘Wow, that's not what I expect to find in Provo.'"
The apartments — 15 of them, all single bedroom, but not studio — will range in size from 500 to 1,100 square feet. Every floor plan is unique due to Soter's desire to let the outside of the structure remain intact.
Some of the apartments will have high, vaulted ceilings and nearly floor-to- ceiling windows in parts. Others will have loft bedrooms, and one will have as a front window the original stained-glass windows that have been a part of the building since its original construction.
Soter said he is looking to serve a demographic that is often overlooked in the college town: the working professional, single or married, who is out of school but does not have children.
"We're looking for is the person who's out of school, working, has a job, a car, and is tired of student housing and student wards," he said. "And we're looking to serve the upper end of that market: people who appreciate something that's nice and well kept, well designed and properly furnished."
Nearly 20 years ago, when Soter was first considering a construction project on the side of running his advertising agency, he did market research to determine which type of housing was most needed in the city.
Student and family housing was out, he said. Young professionals needed somewhere to go, and he wanted to be the person to provide just the place.
He built his Parkside Apartments on 500 West, and due to their success, he said he thinks there is still a need for that type of housing in Provo, despite the large number of students in the area due to the close proximity of Brigham Young and Utah Valley universities.
People should not be separated into neighborhoods based on which demographic they are a part of, he said.
"The students benefit the old-timers and the old-timers benefit the students," he said, referencing his own experience in his Orem neighborhood. "It's silly to separate them — I don't buy it at all."
He said he already has a waiting list for his new place, which will be called Old Chapel Apartments. He expects most of the 15 contracts to be signed in time for the tentative August completion date.
For Soter, it is the project of a lifetime.
"I wanted a project or piece of property of some kind that I could see something in it that no one else could," he said. "I saw this building and thought, 'I have this vision in my brain, and I'm gonna make it happen.'"
"This is gorgeous and it deserves to be saved."