The bright train cars at Germantown Mill Lofts are hard to miss when driving into the neighborhood from Shelby Park. (Not Smoketown as a sharp-eyed reader pointed out.)
Each is painted a primary color, one blue, one red and the last yellow, which draws the eye but also stays true to their history as former sleeper cars for railroad employees, said Jeff Underhill, principal at Louisville-based Underhill Associates, which redeveloped the Germantown mill into an apartment complex.
For reasons he wasn’t quite sure of, Underhill said that the cars were already painted in primary colors, so they simply added new coats. “I guess they wanted them to be more visible,” he said.
Underhill Associates repurposed them for tiny apartments for its Germantown Mill Lofts project. Renovations of the train cars just wrapped up, and they are now available for rent at $975 a month. The main apartments range from about $750 to $1,800.
The three apartments are perfect for a single individual who wants to live somewhere different and be part of the growing Germantown neighborhood, Underhill said. They include a lofted sleeping space, a refurbished kitchen with built-in booth seats, a small built-in desk and a full bathroom, with a little space in the back to add more seating or a small entertainment center.
“They are unique housing units, with the trend toward micro-housing and all,” Underhill said. “People want to live in smaller spaces, more economical spaces.”
While Underhill Associates wanted to capitalize on that trend, the train cars also solved a problem in Germantown Mill Lofts’ design. The side of the property they sit on near the intersection of Ash and Shelby streets didn’t offer a pretty view, Underhill said, adding that Germantown still has areas of blight that the neighborhood revitalization hasn’t quite reached yet. That is also the side that features a still active railroad track.
Underhill said he isn’t concerned about noise from passing trains being a nuisance because the cars are well insulated to limit sounds when the doors are closed.
Plus, “we think that is part of the fun,” he said. “There is no doubt that here you are going to hear the train more than if you were over on the other side of the property or in the middle of it, but it doesn’t shake you out of your boots in here. I think that if somebody’s a light sleeper, we’re probably not going to succeed renting to them.”
The train cars also play into the history of the mill and that area of Germantown.
Underhill Associates “decided let’s celebrate the history of this. There used to be tracks running right on in here into the mill and loading dock,” Underhill said pointing to the former cotton mill buildings. “Instead of building a wall, let’s create some living space and a nice buffer that people will think is kind of cool looking.”
People who rent the train cars will have access to Germantown Mill Lofts’ amenities, including a pool, grilling area and Ping-Pong tables.
Germantown Mill Lofts is about 80 percent leased, and Underhill expects the new apartment complex to fill up before the end of this year. All the apartments are finished, and the last touches are being placed on the common areas. Underhill Associates decided to paint and hang old machinery equipment left over from the mill’s working days as decor.
“They can walk to Finn’s, walk home from Finn’s without getting in the car.”