Almost half of the historic buildings in Adel’s downtown square will undergo renovation work in 2014 as part of a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant the city received in 2013 from the Iowa Economic Development Authority for façade enhancement.
Once the grant is matched by the property owners and the city — each has to meet a 25 percent match requirement — almost $1 million in work that includes new windows, doors and signs; roofline and tuck point work; removal of old storefronts; and renovation of the original brick and ornamental features of the buildings will be completed. The amount of work done on each building will vary and is dependent upon the owner’s budget. Initial designs range from $15,000 to $160,000 in work.
“Really, it’s giving these businesses an opportunity to make some significant investments they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do,” says Karina Ward, Director of the Adel Partners Chamber of Commerce.
The owners of 21 buildings — there are 46 total buildings in the square area — have committed to participating in the project.
“This is certainly the only thing of this scale that’s been done as far as a coordinated project,” Ward says.
Design work is already under way, but visible improvements won’t begin until spring and summer. Work will be completed by November. City officials contracted with RDG Planning & Design architecture firm in Des Moines for the project. Each participating building owner was able to work with architects on his or her own design.
“Basically, it’s a facelift for the whole downtown,” says Brett Klein, Adel city administrator.
Some downtown building owners did not want to participate, and others, including taxpayer-owned buildings where county offices are located, were not eligible for the grant.
The work is another phase in the city’s overall comprehensive downtown revitalization plan, which started with new brick streets and sewer and other underground infrastructure improvements in 2010. The four-block area of downtown Adel, called the public square, was named a National Register of Historic Places District in 2009, which makes it eligible for historic grants and places stricter limitations on revitalization of the area.
Klein says the state of building condition in the downtown area varies. Some buildings need quite a bit of work, while others need minimal cosmetic touches that would restore the historical attributes of the building.
He says the hope is that once the work is completed through the grant, it will lead to a chain reaction effect of other building owners repairing their buildings, all of which he hopes creates a community where people want to shop and dine.
Ward agrees. She says the effort is not just a construction project; it’s an economic development project.
“The hope is that by doing that work, it spurs other building owners to work on their buildings,” Ward says.
Klein says the downtown square businesses are typical of “county seat Americana,” where some businesses do well and stay for years, and others come and go. Having the county offices in the downtown area continues to bring in more people and helps support the economic development of the area, he says. The city also recently formed an economic development commission, which is a city committee that has a goal to fill all of the vacant storefronts in Adel. Currently there are four vacancies in the square area.
“Hopefully they are just kind of turnover situations,” Ward says. “They are buildings we’re hoping to get filled again.”
Some business owners begin improvements on their own
A couple of building owners in the downtown square area have already taken steps to revitalize their buildings.
Ward says the fact that businesses owners have made investments on their own is a positive direction for the downtown.
“We’ve seen a lot of time and effort go into reusing those spaces,” she says of the work that has already been done by business owners in the downtown square area.
The city also offers an Historic Preservation Grant for buildings located in the downtown area. The owner of the Lincoln Savings Bank building was one of the first to take advantage. City officials gave the owners $15,000 in 2012 to renovate the building.
The $70,000 project included a new main level façade, windows and interior work, which used some of the 100-plus-year-old bricks that were removed from Adel’s city streets during the street brick repair project and used them to create one of the walls in the bank’s lobby. In addition, the ceilings were raised to 11.5 feet, and oak trim was installed. A pocket door that was originally a pass-through to the next door business was discovered during the renovation project and was refinished.
“We decided to try not necessarily to do an historic restoration but something that would represent the historic nature of Adel with the brick construction,” says Tim Bohlen, senior vice president of lending and owner of the building. “We’ve made it into a top-notch finish of what a bank would have been at the time.”
The bank, which was established as a full-service branch in 2012, is remembered by most as Gambles Store, a hardware store. The building burned in 1906 and was rebuilt as a brick building in 1906.
Bohlen says the bank will also participate in the Community Development Block Grant project and will make some minor renovations that could include a new front door. He also would like to possibly work with the owner of the next-door building to return an original curved feature to the roofline that was removed sometime in the past.
Bohlen says he’s looking forward to the mass-scale renovation of the downtown Adel area.
“The idea of the square — it’s just a unique characteristic and an attractive characteristic of Adel, and it always has been for me,” Bohlen says, which is why he wanted to rehabilitate his building and do what he could to support economic development in the city.
He says the buildings on square need to be protected and restored.
“They aren’t building any more buildings on the square, and (owning) a building on the square seemed to be the thing to me to do,” Bohlen says about why he selected the site for his business.
Down the block from Lincoln Savings Bank, work is underway on the building where the former ADM Tiger Grill was located. Bonnie Kirk and her family own the building and have done extensive kitchen upgrades and other interior cosmetic work to the building in preparation for a Mexican restaurant to open this month. The Kirk building will be part of the Community Development Block Grant project this year.
Family restores historic building, opens toffee shop
The Romano family was looking for a location to open its first business. The old storefront on the Adel square was the perfect fit.
“The business climate was for more superior in Adel than the rest of the Des Moines metro” in regards to city officials helping them start their business, says John Romano, the owner of the building, where the family operates Al Dente Toffee.
The business opened in September 2012. Initially, the family made its homemade flavored toffees — the recipe was handed down through the generations and started with John’s grandfather Giovanni, who came to the United States from Italy with his family in 1920 — at home but were encouraged by friends and others to begin selling them. Eventually they decided a storefront would be a better fit than online sales.
John Romano did most of the demolition work to the building himself. It included removing carpeting, linoleum, a drop ceiling and wood paneling. What was left behind were original hard floors that were stored and the original tin ceiling and crown modeling, which was restored. Floor-to-ceiling windows were added in the front to create an old-time storefront appearance. Walls were re-plastered, and new wood trim was installed to match the crown molding.
“It was a building in need of some repairs,” Klein, the city administrator, says.
Laura Romano manages the shop for her father. Both say business has been good since they opened, and they’ve received a positive response from the community. Residents were looking in the windows while restoration work was under way, and regulars come into the store every day.
“They love coming in and watching us make the batches throughout the day,” Laura Romano says.
John Romano says he’s glad to see such a widespread effort in place to restore the buildings in downtown Adel, and the need is long overdue. The work he has done on his building has already inspired others, he says. Developers have visited his shop to inquire about the work that was done and to see whether there are other buildings in the community that are prime for redevelopment, he says.
Laura Romano says she wants to see more of the downtown businesses rehabilitated.
“Some of the buildings have been undernourished, and it would be nice to see them looking nice again,” she says.
City officials contributed $4,000 to the $50,000 project the Romanos completed through the historic grant.
Ward, the chamber director, says the Romanos have put a lot of time and investment into the space.
“I think there’s a lot of interest in downtown Adel,” John Romano says.