Oleg Opalnyk, the developer of the Synagogue Apartments in Auburn, said it was a leap of faith to turn a 1930s synagogue into luxury apartments, where rents start at $2,000.
“It’s been more than four years in the making. It’s my baby. I loved the building and wanted to make it something that I would want to live in,” Opalnyk said. “I’m hoping that with this, the living quality of people will go up.”
Of the 10 apartments, two will be used as AirBnB rentals. One has already been leased and seven are still available, Opalnyk said.The high-end, 9,000-square-foot building features keypad entry, high-end finishes including quartz countertops, stainless appliances, European-styled tiled bathrooms, hardwood floors, and custom staircases and railings. The apartments also come with once-a-month cleaning services, Opalnyk said.
“We have been working to create a great housing mix in downtown. We have market rate, workforce and now we’re getting into more luxury housing. A mix of housing spread throughout all parts of downtown creates more of a community,” said Jay Brenchick, Auburn’s director of economic development.
“Developers have had concerns about high-end apartment demand, but when major employers go to attract new workers like executives, doctors or professors, they’re not finding the upscale apartments with walkability that people want. That market exists. This is a great endorsement for all the work we’re trying to do,” Brenchick said. “We see great opportunities for additional development.”
“When you talk to any business, their No. 1 concern is their workforce. And their workforce’s No. 1 concern is housing that fits their budget. This will help existing businesses as well as those coming to Auburn,” he said.
Auburn has been working for several years, adjusting zoning and the city’s comprehensive plan. It has reached out to developers in Maine, as well as those in Boston and New York.
In early 2021, Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque called for 2,000 new homes to be built over five to seven years. Last spring, the city listed seven city-owned properties for sale and almost all have letters of intent or plans or plans for development already, Brenchick said. “We hope these developments will bring and keep business and greater housing diversity,” Brenchick said.
The city is currently focused on revitalizing downtown, but will also look to bring some new development energy to the mall area, as well as the area near Exit 75, Brenchick said.
Auburn has other plans in the works, such as workforce housing that people can own instead of rent.
“There are folks who make a little more than low- to-medium workforce housing. But not enough for market rate housing. We hope to announce this spring a program for workforce housing you can own. Ownership helps alleviate generational poverty,” Brenchick said. “It’s a program we hope can be duplicated across the state.”