By Makayla Tendall | The Gazette | June 20, 2016
MARION — There’s a renaissance of sorts taking place in the streets of Marion.
Since 2013, private business and building owners have invested millions of dollars into sprucing up the town through facade and facility improvements, according to city officials. That’s the year Marion became part of the Main Street Iowa program, which promotes revitalization in hopes of spurring economic growth.
In recent weeks, another round of improvements has started thanks to a state grant aimed at helping businesses in the designated Main Street zone.
“It’s just an exciting time for our city in particular,” said Ashley Zierath, director of the economic development group Uptown Marion. She said the goal of the project is to revitalize, not replace, historic storefronts of the buildings, which were built in the late 1800s to early 1900s.
“It was a great opportunity to affect a lot of buildings at once and to enhance the purpose of our historic buildings,” she said. “There are a lot of buildings turning over to new hands. Existing building owners are putting more money into their properties to enhance their beauty and potential.”
Six Marion building owners have secured grants totaling more than $160,000 from the Iowa Economic Development Authority. The money flowed into Marion after city officials, in 2014, conducted a slum/blight survey to determine if the Main Street area had enough abandoned or deteriorated buildings. The results showed 52 percent of buildings in the area — from 9th to 13th streets and from 7th to 8th avenues — met the criteria.
In order to qualify for Facade Improvement Grant funding, a building must be in fair or poor condition, which means 25 percent to 50 percent of the building’s exterior must be deteriorated. Grant recipients must agree to cover a quarter of the cost for improvements. The city of Marion covers another 25 percent and the grant covers the rest.
Henry Royer, who owns a building at 1222 7th Ave., elected to use grant money for tuckpointing and to replace the front door. The building is home to Vball Gear, a volleyball equipment store. Royer is investing more than $5,000 of his own money as part of the $20,000-plus improvement project.
“I thought it was a pretty good idea for the whole area,” Royer said. “It just hadn’t been worked on in years. I’m trying to be a good citizen and have the front of my building looking nice.”
Ted Moser, who owns Vball Gear, said he expects the facade improvements to have a positive impact on business.
“It will … be more appealing to the downtown,” Moser said. “I think a lot of people will appreciate what the city is doing to improve the downtown area.”
Kent Backen, owner of Park Place Hotel Antiques Mall and the building housing it, is using his grant for mortar repairs and to install new awnings.
“It gives it a new, fresher look,” Backen said. “It will draw the younger people. And (the grant) just takes care of these buildings that have been run down over the years just because of the outrageous costs otherwise.”
Backen is investing more than $15,000 to help pay for the $63,000 renovation to his building.
The latest round of construction began earlier this year and is expected to wrap up by fall, said Amanda Kaufman, assistant to the city manager.
Zierath, from Uptown Marion, said $3.53 million has been privately invested into building rehabilitation projects in Marion since January 2013.
Conrad Ramsey, owner of Ramsey’s Wine Bistro on 7th Avenue, is among those who has invested money without receiving a grant. He recently added an awning and fenced-in seating area. He hopes to do more, spending up to $7,000 on improvements.
“To me this is a long-term investment,” he said.
Some business owners have pursued other funding sources. The owners of the Cobban-Hervey Building, 1138 and 1144 7th Ave., for example, received an Iowa Challenge Grant for $55,000 to upgrade facilities.
Zierath said a lot of the change has been brought on by Marion becoming a part of the Main Street Iowa program.
“As a Main Street Iowa district, we have access to grants and free resources to assist historic building rehabilitation costs,” Zierath said. “As building rehab projects are successfully completed … it inspires new investors and developers to do the same. It’s important to our program and community to preserve our historic character and charm … as the city of Marion continues to grow.”
Here is a look at improvement projects being completed on several Marion buildings with grant money from the Iowa Economic Development Authority, as part of the state’s Main Street Iowa initiative:
748 and 740 10th St.
Buildings constructed: 1928
Facade improvements: $51,391*
Owner’s contribution $12,848*
7th Avenue Antiques
1104 7th Ave.
Building constructed: 1870
Facade improvements: $63,234*
Owner’s contribution: $15,809*
Masonic Temple/Smitty’s Shoe Repair/Webber’s Paint and Glass
660 and 684 10th St.
Building constructed: 1895
Facade improvements: $82,336*
Owner’s contribution: $20,584*
731 9th St.
Building constructed: 1932
Facade improvement: $11,928
Owner’s contribution: $2,982
1222 7th Ave.
Building constructed: 1923
Facade improvements: $20,136
Owner’s contribution: $5,034
1060 7th Ave.
Building constructed: 1894
Facade improvements: $41,227
Owner’s contribution: $10,307
* Final construction costs not determined
Source: Uptown Marion