A project planned to begin this spring will bring a five-story building with bottom floor retail and luxury condos near the heart of downtown Auburn.

The building, called The Whatley, will be replace the current Whatley building at 129 S. College Street, just down from Toomer’s Corner and across the street from the Auburn University campus. Currently, the building houses a number of businesses, including Prevail Union and the locAL Market.

The bottom two floors will be flush to the street, with the top three floors set back about 12 feet, a decision that developer Steve Fleming said was included to make the building feel like it fits in downtown Auburn.

“What we’re doing is we’re making the first two floors at street level, and then we’re stepping back about 12 feet. Just so you don’t have that tunnel effect of a tall building downtown,” said Fleming, a 1984 Auburn University graduate who also plans on living in the building. “You have to go up with the value of real estate in downtown Auburn. The only way to make projects make sense is to get some density by going up.  But I think, even though I could have brought the building all the way out to the street and have it hanging right over College, I think the right thing to do is recess it back, give a sense of scale so that it fits in downtown Auburn.”

The bottom floor will consist of retail, which will be owned by the family that owns the current building. The top four floors will consist of six luxury condo units that range in price from the mid-$800,000s to a little more than $2 million and in size from about 900 square feet for a one-bedroom unit to 3,750 square feet for the two whole floor units, according to Fleming. Three of the units are already reserved.

“I’m trying to design to bring in people like myself, older folks, retired folks, professors,” Fleming said. “I think there are a lot of people that want to live in Auburn that would love to live in a downtown urban location that’s walkable, and we just don’t have that option right now. Everything downtown is basically student housing, which is fine, but I think there needs to be an option for some of us who really love downtown Auburn. This is going to be my residence. This is not going to be my vacation home, my second home. I’m going to live in it permanently as my retirement village.”

The building design features plenty of glass along the front of the building, as well as large balconies overlooking campus.

“You’ve got a beautiful view of Samford Tower,” Fleming said. “So these are going to be great entertaining places and be a great place to sit and watch the sunset, watch the fans roll Toomer’s Corner,” Fleming said. “I remember the day I drove north going to Birmingham for my first job, the farther I got from Auburn the sadder I got. I’ve been trying to get back to Auburn ever since.

“Unlike a lot of developers that are Chicago-based or Austin, Texas-based that want to come in and just make a profit. I want to come in and build my home.”

Fleming added that construction could begin as early as this coming spring. Parking requirements would be met at the former Tiger Rags property on South Gay Street, which Fleming owns. Each unit will have two covered, restricted parking spots, as well as additional spaces available for guests.

Fleming said this is a heart, no head, project for him, and that he’s trying to build something that will “make Auburn a better place.”

“I think this is a special place, and I think this requires a special look and feel. What I told my architect day one was let’s design something so when people drive by they’ll argue about whether it’s a year old or 50 years old,” he said. “I don’t want the building to be screaming, ‘Hey, look at me, I’m new, I’m shiny, I’m pretty.’ I want it to fit in with downtown Auburn.”

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