(Google Street View images)
Four years ago, the City of Anamosa was looking for ways to leverage its history and architectural assets by reviving the look of the downtown district, which was suffering from unattractive storefronts that had been remodeled through the years to fit temporary needs. Doors and windows were made of materials that may have been appropriate for a particular purpose but didn’t fit the original architecture — or simply became weathered and deteriorated.
One of those historic Main Street buildings was the home of Tucker’s Tavern, an institution in Anamosa with a loyal following of regulars and fans of its legendary pizza. Owner Teresa Tuetken knew her building at 201 Main Street had worn out its curb appeal. “People walking past had a hard time seeing what the bar looked like on the inside,” she said. Like other downtown buildings in Iowa, the storefront had small windows and “cover up” panels that didn’t match the original style of the building. Brickwork needed repair, the paint was cracking, and the building had none of its original luster.
Anamosa took action in early 2019, when the city council approved a plan to pursue a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from the Iowa Economic Development Authority’s (IEDA) Downtown Revitalization Program. Later that year, the council asked IEDA to evaluate the possibility of such a grant, and the assessment team reported that the district’s historic flavor and still-thriving business climate would justify such a project. Following that positive report, the city council worked with ECICOG, the Jones County Economic Development organization, and Martin Gardner Architecture to apply for funds in early 2020. ECICOG Community Development Specialist Tom Gruis helped to write the grant and served as liaison between the entities involved while administering the planning and building phases.
The grant required a 50% match and the city was able to commit $500,000, half of that from city funds and the other half to be paid by the businesses selected to participate. In the fall of 2020, IEDA announced that Anamosa would receive the full amount requested, so the City Council, led by Mayor Rod Smith, approved the matching funds. Many downtown property owners showed interest in participating, and a central section of Main Street became the focus of the $1 million project that would transform ten deteriorated storefronts into attractive sites ready for business.
Tavern-owner Tuetken said she was delighted when she found out her block was on the list for storefront renovation. Built in 1871 as the Easterly Hotel, her corner building contained some surprises when workers demolished the cover-up materials on the storefront. “As they started removing things from the outside of the building, we found some different brick underneath,” Tuetken said. Those hidden materials inspired some quick rethinking, and Martin Gardner Architects helped to create a look that she likes. “They worked with me to change the colors to what I really wanted,” she said. “It was just great from start to finish.”
Tuetken said Jones County Development Executive Director Derek Lumsden and Tricon Construction Group Superintendent Andy Knapp stayed in close contact with her during the planning and building phases. “Those guys were really helpful,” she said. “Our whole block got done, and it just looks great.” Lumsden agreed that the renovation was a success. “This project has resurrected the vibrant look of the downtown and we are hoping to build on that momentum with future rounds, new businesses, and quality housing,” he said.
Reimagining Iowa’s built environment through rehabilitation and adaptive use is one of the seven pillars of the Envision East Central Iowa (EEIC) economic development plan, which was led by ECICOG and released this year. During the public-input phase of developing the EEIC, Iowans expressed a desire to transform their downtowns into connected, walkable hubs, and maximizing the value of existing infrastructure will be necessary to make that happen. For more information on how your town might acquire the funding for an architectural makeover, contact Tom Gruis at email@example.com.