BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A new contractor will start work this summer on the upper story apartments in Fort Madison’s downtown district as a result of action taken Tuesday.
At the regular meeting of the Fort Madison City Council the council approved of Mayor Brad Randolph signing off on a Community Development Block Grant that will trigger the work. The city will serve as a pass-thru for funding from the Iowa Economic Development Authority, but City Manager David Varley said the Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission will administer the project and collect about $54,000 in fees. That agreement will still need to be put in front of the council.
Barker Financial of Iowa City, who was a main financier of the project when it was with the Frantz Group of Cedar Rapids, has taken over as the developer of the project and has purchased the buildings.
Varley said the work was going to focus on the Cattermole building and the Lee County Bank building. The Sears building, which was part of the original project has been left off the project regarding upper level housing, and it is unknown at this point what work will be done on that building.
City Councilman Mark Lair said he hoped that the developer will at least put money into the facade and exterior features of the Sears building. Mayor Brad Randolph also indicated he would like to see Barker’s do something with the first level to keep it viable for the Sears franchise that is still occupying the retail section of the building.
“The state finally recognized their ownership and agreed to contract with them so now they would receive remaining funds earmarked and additional funds of approximately $2.95 million which includes the Cattermole and Lee County buildings. The group hasn’t decided what they will do with the Sears building,” Varley said.
“Since this has all kind of changed and went south, the IEDA has asked us to step in. We would agree to be a pass through for the funds. But fortunately we will not administer the grant. They’ve done about 60 to 70 of these grants and there’s a lot of paperwork and verify the units are rented to low or moderate income people.”
“With regional planning, like they did on a couple other projects, are we going to see them back out on us,” Councilman Mark Lair asked Varley.
Varley said that wouldn’t happen because this is a different type of a project.
“IEDA would probably prefer that we contract with the planning commission because they have the experience. It’s in everyone’s interest to have them do that. We’ll be coming back with that agreement soon because (Barker) is hoping to get that construction done this year,” Varley said.
Lair also said there should be an agreement to at least work on the outside of the Sears building to keep it looking nice.
Mayor Brad Randolph agreed and asked that Varley look into making sure that Barker’s keep the building in line with franchise standards for Sears so that entity doesn’t disappear from downtown.
“I just want to make sure that’s not in jeopardy,” Randolph said.
Varley said Barker’s own the building and will take care of it and keep it in good repair.
“But they don’t think that building lends itself well to putting housing upstairs so they talked about facade renovation to make it look nice on the outside and focus on the commercial aspect, but they aren’t sure what they want to do with the building,” Varley said.
“I would want to make sure Barker did everything they could to make sure the people leasing that first floor meet the requirement of the franchise to keep that an ongoing entity down there,” Randolph said.
In other action:
- the council approved the 2017-2018 fiscal year budget.
- the council approved a change to city code redefining commercial vehicle and parking regulations to minimize large vehicle traffic and parking on city streets, 6-1 with Brian Wright voting no and Kevin Rink was absent.
- the council approved 7-0, a contract with Jones Contracting of West Point to reconstruct 15th Street from Avenue B to Ridgewood Road for $593,757.
- the council approved 7-0 vacating 15th Place and 16th, 17th and 19th streets south of Avenue P to Hall Towing for market value.