Only a gravel lot and pine trees are currently on the property at 1011 N. Columbus Street, but thanks to an interest-free loan from the State of Iowa, construction will begin there this spring on a mixed-use building featuring both business space and the sorely needed commodity of rental housing. The building’s completion is projected for fall this year.
The City of West Liberty, with help from the West Liberty Economic Area Development (WeLEAD), has secured a five-year, no-interest loan in the amount of $431,124 from the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) through its Nuisance Property and Abandoned Building Remediation Program.
SGA Construction, Inc., purchased the property in November 2020. Owner Travis Shield wanted to build on it and found that the inflated cost of building materials could have kept his business from breaking even on the investment. Shield then asked We LEAD if its people knew of any programs that could help his business afford to provide new housing and commercial space. Once former We Lead director Joe Taylor talked to the IEDA, Shield said, “It was a pretty easy process. I just submitted my costs to the state and WeLEAD did the rest.”
The Iowa Economic Development Authority gives priority for these funds to communities that lack quality housing stock and have a high number of lower- to middle-income residents. The funding can only be applied to the direct costs of construction.
The process of application began in March 2021, and the former West Liberty Tire building that occupied the lot – plus its concrete slab foundation – was demolished Dec. 8, 2021. “It was in pretty rough shape,” Shield said, who added that because this construction is for the purpose of nuisance abatement, “We had to send (to IEDA) photos to show what it looked like.”
The result of landing the state loan is a plan for a 7,300 square-foot building to include a 3,700 square-foot businesses space (which could be for one business or a few, depending on the needs of those interested) and three second-floor family-size apartments with three bedrooms and two bathrooms each. Two will have 1,250 square feet, and the third will be 1,100 square feet.
Completion is planned for September. Shield said he knows where there are kinks in supply chain for building materials, so the harder-to-get materials will be sought out first.
“We plan to start building in March, and I will already have ordered the windows,” he said.
Shield said that three apartments will be a little help to the community, but he would have liked to offer more. He would have added a third floor with more apartments, but the lot is too small to provide parking for that many units, he said.
New WeLead Executive Director Ken Brooks said there is “plenty of interest but no commitments yet” from businesses wishing to rent space in the new structure.
Brooks said all permits were filed last week. He expressed excitement for the new construction. “We Lead is thrilled to be involved not only for the opportunity for more business space, but for housing more families. Bringing affordable housing to West Liberty is one of our primary focuses going into 2022,”he said.
Brooks said most of his organization’s economic development efforts for businesses have focused on keeping them in their existing structures, so this was something different.
“This is a great project. We’d like to see more like it,” he said.