By Corridor Business Journal | March 12, 2014

MARION – With more commercial development under way than it’s seen in decades, Uptown Marion rolled out the welcome mat for retailers and investors Feb. 27.

The first Uptown Marion Real Estate Showcase offered a close-up look at eight properties for sale or lease. They included historic storefronts, such as the 1873-built Mentzer & Son Grocery Building at 710 10th St., and future gems, such as the $2.6-million Philip’s Diamond building at the southeast corner of 13th Street and Seventh Avenue.

The Uptown Marion area continues to attract retail interest at a time when many older downtown areas are struggling. Recent activity includes.

  • More than $7 million worth of new construction.
  • Plans by Running Wild to open its fifth athletic footwear location this spring at 1070 Seventh Ave., the former location of Intelligent Life Toys.
  • Klein’s Antiques’ plans to open at 1170 Seventh Ave., the former location of Marion Mercantile.
  • The recent opening of Louie’s Scoreboard Sports Bar & Grill at 740 10th St., the former location of the Spy Bar.
  • Plans for Cast of Thousands Photography to locate in the former Uncle Stan’s Military Surplus building, 900 Seventh Ave.
  • More than $3.5 million in building renovations planned or already under way.

Uptown Marion Program Director Nick Glew presented information on Iowa’s Main Street program and the redevelopment efforts under way in downtown Marion to show that uptown area investing can be a wise decision. He said the opening of Louie’s Scoreboard demonstrated just how much one significant business addition can add to the activity level downtown.

The district has applied for an Iowa Downtown Revitalization Fund grant. If approved, he said, it would trigger investment of more than $1.2 million in storefront renovations on 15 buildings. That would add to the $75,000 Main Street Iowa Challenge Grant the district recently received to advance renovations of the historic Memorial Hall building at 760 11th St.

Mr. Glew discussed plans for the new Sixth Avenue Central Corridor that will take traffic pressure off Seventh Avenue, possibly beginning as soon as 2015.

“The question we keep hearing is, ‘when are we going to get some infrastructure improvements within our downtown district?’” said Mr. Glew.  He said the plans for the Uptown District include more streetscaping, including 15-foot-wide sidewalks that would allow more opportunities for outdoor dining.

“Uptown Marion is a destination and we want to create this environment where people can enjoy being outside,” Mr. Glew said.

That work isn’t expected before 2016, he indicated.

Members of the audience wanted to know more about the downtown parking situation.  Uptown District board members said it’s sometimes necessary to park a few doors away from the motorists’ destination, but overall there is no shortage.

The Philip’s Diamond building was the most popular tour destination. Philip’s Diamond Shop owner and designer Phil High took more than a dozen visitors on a tour that went from the basement to a rooftop area that will be fully outfitted for catering of outdoor dining events.

The building is expected to contain a mix of retail, office and restaurant uses.

An excavated hole in the ground was the only thing visible at 1204 Seventh Ave., where Capital Commercial Division LLC plans to build a multiuse building.

Project spokesman Steve Stefani said plans include a street-level restaurant, second floor offices and six loft apartments on the third floor, with a rooftop garden above. First-floor retail is also a possibility.

Construction has been delayed by the deep frost layer caused by this winter’s exceptional cold, Mr. Stefani explained, however, the project hopes to get back on schedule.

More than 30 people attended the real estate showcase event.