By Sara Konrad Baranowski
May 16, 2017
Refinished hardwood floors. Functioning transom windows. Refurbished skylights.
Those who toured seven new downtown Iowa Falls apartments Monday afternoon were wowed by the workmanship and the attention to detail in a project that was only possible because of a partnership between local building owners and state government officials.
In January 2015, Move Iowa Falls Forward LLC – a development group comprised of the owners of three downtown buildings – was awarded a Community Development Block Grant by the Iowa Economic Development Authority. The $1,482,505 award was made to help fund the renovation of seven apartments:
- Three in the Comly Shipley building (Dorothy’s) at 506 Washington Ave., which is owned by Jim Hammann;
- Two in the Nissly & Nissly building at 511 Washington Ave., which is owned by Roger Nissly and Mike Nissly; and
- Two in the Bel Floral building at 610 Washington Ave., which is owned by Todd and Jennifer Bicknese.
Construction began later in 2015, and has continued since then. (In fact, it’s still underway at the Bicknese building.) Guests who had been in the original spaces and walked through them again this week were delighted by the changes.
“It’s an amazing transformation. From the beginning when there were pigeons and bats, to today when they’re beautiful, habitable spaces that bring people back down to Iowa Falls,” said Tim Waddell, who is the Community Development division administrator at the Iowa Economic Development Authority. Waddell was one of half a dozen state officials who joined local dignitaries for tours of the apartments Monday.
The Nissly building was built by Eugene Ellsworth in 1902. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places under its original name – the Ellsworth-Jones Building. Until the early 1960s, the two upper stories of the building were used by businesses. But in the 50-plus years since then, they’ve remained unused. Guests who toured them on Monday were shocked by the grandeur of its restored beauty.
“There are few buildings like the Nissly building even in the state,” said Jim Thompson, a business development consultant with the Iowa Economic Development Authority. “That’s one of the best in Iowa.”
The general contractor for the projects at all three buildings – Smith-Gehrls Inc. – and the subcontractors painstakingly restored hardwood floors, rebuilt walls, and brought the beauty of Ellsworth’s building back to life.
Across the street, the second floor of the 122-year-old Comly Shipley has new life. The building has been vacant since Dorothy’s clothing store closed a decade ago. Jim Hammann bought it in 2013 after reading in the Times Citizen that it was destined for demolition.
“I thought the building was way deserving of preservation,” Hammann said of it Monday. “One of the reasons I moved to town was because of its historic buildings. Then I read it was going to be condemned.”
The upstairs of the building has been completely rebuilt. At the front of the building two one-bedroom apartments are lit by refurbished curved windows that feature sliding panes, something state officials said they’ve never seen. At the back of the building, a large two-bedroom gleams with new paint and light fixtures.
Down the street, the Bicknese building is still a work in progress. Major roof work was needed, but now with the inside walls framed, Smith-Gehrls employees will be hard at work completing the two one-bedroom apartments.
A portion of the CDBG grant – $104,395 – was awarded for storm water management. At the Bicknese and Hammann buildings that means green roofs that will feature prairie grasses and other plants that can collect storm water rather than letting it run off into rivers and storm sewers. Money was also spent on porous parking areas at the Bicknese and Nissly buildings.
Waddell said the storm water management plans helped the three-building project receive funding. The money being used for the grants came from federal funds that were dispersed after the 2008 floods. In all, the state received nearly $1 billion in funding, and Waddell said the Iowa Economic Development Authority has awarded grants in 85 of the federally-declared Iowa counties. He said the apartments in Iowa Falls are a good investment in the community’s future.
“We want to change people’s thoughts about what they can do with their second and third stories of buildings downtown,” Waddell said. “A lot of times they’re used as second roofs. They put baby pools on the second floor and wait for the water to come through the roof. That’s not economically sustainable. This is.”
The building’s owners agreed, but said the work would not have been possible without the CDBG grant. While the $1.4 million grant paid for a large chunk of the work, each building owner has also paid for some of the work. In all, the project to refurbish all seven apartments will have an ending price tag close to $1.6 million.
“It never would have been possible for me at all,” Hammann said.
Perhaps best of all, Waddell said, per grant requirements, some of the apartments will be made available to people who ordinarily could not afford to live in them. For the first five years the apartments are rented, at least 51 percent of the units in each building must be made available to tenants who qualify as low to moderate, which is 80 percent of the area’s median income.
“So that’s what we’re paying for – to subsidize a building,” Waddell said. “So that people in that income category can afford to live in a place like that.”
Thompson predicts the building’s owners will have no trouble finding tenants.
“I’ll be shocked if there’s not a waiting list.”
For more information, contact Sara at Times Citizen: SKonrad@iafalls.com