PITTSBURG — Friday’s closing on the Block 22 project cleared the way for construction to begin. General Contractor Vecino Group wasted no time, and sledge hammers were swinging Monday morning.

Pittsburg City Manager Daron Hall said he was excited to see the $18 million project — of which the city is contributing $1.5 million — finally underway.

“We made it,” Hall said Monday. “Just to be through the closing process and to have that behind us is a big deal. I’m just so excited for the community.”

Once work is complete, in August 2018, the buildings will have 105 student housing units aimed at upperclassmen and graduate students, commercial and education space, and an area for The Pittsburg State University Center for Innovation and Business Development.

The project is being made possible through a partnership with PSU, the City of Pittsburg and Vecino Group. PSU will contribute $1 million to the project, with a $1.5 million contribution coming from the city.

Mat Burton, of Vecino Group, said he, too, is excited by the beginning of construction.

“I think from our standpoint this is a really important milestone,” Burton said. “This is an exciting time as we bring those buildings back to life and do it in a way that bridges the city’s past and future.”

Pittsburg State University President Steve Scott was thrilled as well.

“While the city of Pittsburg and the university have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship since our founding, this project steps our partnership up to an entirely new level,” Scott said. “We are pleased to invest in downtown Pittsburg in a way that promises to be transformational for both the city and the university.

Hall praised the leadership of the Pittsburg City Commission in approving the partnership as well as the university and Vecino Group.

“The university and Vecino have been such great partners,” Hall said.

Shawn Naccarato serves as Director of the Center for Innovation and Business Development. He said previously he hopes folks see the center’s move as a commitment to revitalization.

“This will be a living, learning innovation center,” he said at the lease signing. “With moving my center, the university is showing a commitment to innovation and economic development in Pittsburg.”

Scott agreed.

“With the school bond election passing, the casino opening, and Block22 now underway, there is a real sense of momentum that is hard to deny,” he said. “Optimism and hope are indeed alive and well in Pittsburg, Kansas. I could not be more pleased to feel, hear, and see that.

PSU is leasing the properties from Vecino Group for 20 years with an opportunity to purchase in five years. In either case the university will own the buildings at the end of the lease.

Between the $1.5 million the City of Pittsburg has contributed to the project, the $1 million raised by the University and more than $10 million in tax credits — including a federal New Market Tax Credit which has only been used five times before in Kansas — PSU is only looking at about $5 million in debt service. A number low enough, that if the school is able to fill the apartments, it will be cashflow positive in the first year.

— Patrick Richardson is the managing editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. He can be emailed at prichardson@morningsun.net, or follow him on Twitter @PittEditor.