Jeff council hears about Phase 2 of facade project

Saving historic home from demolition also discussed

Jefferson’s historic downtown buildings and the future of a historic home near downtown were topics of discussion at the April 24 Jefferson city council meeting. Building official Nick Sorensen made presentations and led the discussion on both topics.

Sorensen first briefed the council on the particulars of Phase 2 of a downtown façade project. Phase 1 was a $1 million project that renovated the facades of 13 historic buildings. A community development block grant (CDBG) covered half the cost, with the city of Jefferson paying $250,000 and building owners paying the remaining $250,000, depending on what work was done to their building.

The city and Jefferson Matters: Main Street are continuing their collaboration on Phase 2, but there is no federal grant involved. The city council has approved up to $300,000 for the fiscal year starting July 1. Building owners will match that amount dollar for dollar.

Sorensen told the council he thinks the city will get the same value as with the CDBG funds. Because of the federal money involved, contractors had to be paid the state prevailing wage under the Davis-Bacon Act. The use of a professional architect was required, the city paid Region XII Council of Governments to administer the grant, and some of the plans had to be approved by the State Historic Preservation office.
Owners in Phase 2 will hire their own contractors. Main Street Iowa will provide design assistance if needed. Building owners will pay the contractors and submit bills to the city for reimbursement. The city will approve payment only after the work done passes a building inspection.

Twelve building owners are interested in being part of Phase 2, according to Sorensen, and he said the projects are smaller than those in Phase 1. “We took care of the ‘problem children’ with the first one. The money in this project will go a lot further,” he said.

The city and Jefferson Matters hope to roll out a program application and hold public meetings for building owners early next month.

Sorensen also presented the possibility of purchasing the house at 305 W. State St, which is now owned by Central Christian Church, and moving it to a city-owned vacant lot at 407 W. Lincoln Way.

The house is next door to Central Christian Church. The church purchased it earlier this year for the property. The church plans to demolish the house if it remains on that property.

“It’s one of those things, we’ve been tearing them down and tearing them down,” Sorensen said, referring to other old houses. “Well, what’s the cost to move them?”

One of the unique features

The house was built between 1890 and 1896 by E.E. Gallup, an early grocer in town, Sorensen told the council. In 1964 it was converted to a boarding house for seniors. Victorian features include plaster corbeling, 9-foot solid oak pocket doors, a buffet built on a curve with beveled leaded glass, transom glass, a fireplace with an oak mantle and curio, and four stained glass windows.

He provided a “worst case” scenario budget of $94,300 to move the house to the vacant lot on Lincoln Way. Of that, $40,000 is the actual moving cost and $34,350 is the cost of a new foundation. He said he’d recommend having the house painted professionally at a cost of $10,000, and that he’s already had offers of volunteer labor to do needed cleaning and carpentry on the interior.

He estimated the cost to build a new house of that size would be $465,000. Because of the age of the house, it would likely be assessed at $120-$140,000. Sorensen said the idea would be to sell it as a “project” house at a cost to recoup the city’s expense, and leave interior work to the new owner.

Region XII said it would provide a loan to the city at 3 percent interest for the project. He said a local realtor advised him the house would sell, “but it takes a unique individual for a house like that.”

Sorensen said the house would fit in well with neighboring properties at 407 W. Lincoln Way. The lot has been vacant and has generated no property tax revenue since the city demolished a house there a year ago.

He asked for input from the council as to whether he should continue planning.
The idea had mixed reactions from council members. “It’d be a shame to lose that house,” said council member Matt Wetrich, who lives in that neighborhood.

Dave Sloan said that amount of money could be spent elsewhere and get “more bang for the buck.” “I’d rather see the money used in a different phase of housing. You hate to lose a big historic house like that, but I think it’s just too expensive,” Sloan said. Larry Teeples agreed with him.

Wetrich and Harry Ahrenholtz were more favorable to the idea, depending on whether a loan from Region XII for the project would affect other potential housing projects. Neither Sorensen nor city administrator Mike Palmer had the answer to the question.

“We’ve put a lot of money into historic districts, historic buildings. This would go along with that,” Wetrich said. He also mentioned the exposure the house would get if it were on Lincoln Way and repainted before RAGBRAI® comes to Jefferson July 23.

“It’s a difficult decision…. In all actuality, bang for buck, you’re not going to build something like that on that lot for the price,” Sorensen said.

Ahrenholtz asked Sorensen to find out if the loan from Region XII is a unique opportunity unique for that situation. “If it would be from money that could be used for something else, and we’re using it for this, then we have another decision to make,” he said.

Sorensen said several times that there’s no way to predict how long it could take to find the right buyer for the house.

The council asked Sorensen and Palmer to get more information about the source of funding before the May 8 council meeting. The council will decide then whether or not to proceed.

According to Sorensen, the church will move quickly to have the house demolished if the city isn’t interested in moving it. The church has already torn down the garage.

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