Historic Sacramento building ready to be turned into apartments?

It’s been a police headquarters, a law library and an office building. It still has bars on some of its windows, and the remnants of a police shooting range.

The next role for downtown Sacramento’s old Hall of Justice building could be its most ambitious yet: high-end apartments for adventurous urban dwellers.

A real estate investment company owned by a group of 30-something Sacramentans has purchased the 97-year-old building with an eye toward giving the downtown property a massive conversion. Its short and largely unsuccessful tenure as an office building would end. A new era of 42 high-end, loft-style apartments would begin.

Conversion isn’t a certainty. Sutter Capital Group, the new owner, still has to be convinced that the costs of remodeling the 48,000-square-foot building wouldn’t be prohibitive, said managing partner Burke Fathy.

Then there’s the issue of location. The four-story building at Sixth and H streets is next door to the county jail. The north and west sides of the building provide unflattering views of the downtown railyard, which is in the early stages of a giant makeover of its own.

Fathy and his partners acknowledge that could make the building less attractive to some residential tenants. But they also say they think the location question can be overcome. In their view, a thriving market exists in Sacramento, mostly among younger people, for this type of neighborhood ambiance.

“As the core continues to grow out, it becomes an urban city,” said Brandon Bozek, a partner in the firm.

“We’re definitely going for that urban, industrial loft feel,” Fathy said. “I think Sacramento is ready for this kind of project.”

The Hall of Justice served as Sacramento police headquarters until 1996. It later was used as a courthouse and for a while was home to the county Public Law Library. The last few years it’s been an office building, mostly serving the legal community.

It was sold to a Bay Area investor for $14 million at the peak of the market in 2006, but tenants started leaving and the investor lost the building to foreclosure last year. Sutter Capital bought it last week for “a fraction” of the 2006 price, Fathy said.

His firm inherited a building with a slew of potential but just one tenant, a law firm on the top floor. While the easiest course might be to simply look for new office tenants, Fathy said the building probably has more potential as an apartment building.

Vacancy rates in the central city are lower for apartments than for offices, he said, and new projects are taking shape throughout downtown and midtown. Although one big mixed-use project has been put in limbo for legal reasons – the long-awaited redevelopment of the 700 block of K Street – a number of other projects are under construction, such as the Tapestri Square row house development at 21st and T streets.

Certainly the Hall of Justice has one advantage over the newer projects: history.

Although the east end of the building has a contemporary steel-and-glass look, courtesy of a 2002 addition, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places. Three of the third-floor windows still have bars from the old jail cells, while the fourth floor features the pock-marked walls of a police shooting range.

“It’s got an old-world feel,” Bozek said.

If the firm does choose to convert the building to residential, it probably wouldn’t be open for business until 2016.