Van Allen grant could come by fall

Gold Dot
Blue Dot
Gold Dot
Note: Printed with Permission from The Quad-City Times, article by Kay Luna.
The former Van Allen Department Store once was considered the cornerstone of Clinton's downtown. A majestic, four-story brick structure settled on the corner of 5th Avenue South, the Van Allen building erected in 1915 offered unique shopping and a glimpse of up-to-date design by famous architect Louis Sullivan. Even after the department store was sold to Petersen-Harned-Von Maur and later closed, leaving most of its retail space vacant since 1987, the historic building never lost its charm in the community. "With the architecture, it is beautiful," said Elizabeth Van Allen of Fulton, wife of the late John B. Van Allen -- Van Allen Department Store's third-generation owner. For people like Van Allen -- the last person remaining in the area to carry the Van Allen name -- the 31,000-square-foot building holds an emotional tie to times past as its future becomes more clear.
By fall, two housing companies should know if enough federal and state funding has been secured to launch a $2.2 million redevelopment and restoration. Heartland Properties Inc., of Madison, Wis., and Community Housing Initiatives Inc., of Spencer, plan to create 19 apartments for mostly low-income residents, while preserving retail space on the first floor for shops. Project officials have been awarded some state tax credits, but plan to apply for more federal and state tax credits and grants. If those requests are approved, construction could begin this fall and be completed in January 2002. The idea of securing a tenant for the building is a welcome one, much better than a threat of the wrecking ball, said Elizabeth Van Allen, who is a sister to one of Clinton's Bickelhaupt Arboretum founders, Frances Bickelhaupt. "I'm all in favor of having something done with it instead of it standing vacant," Van Allen said.
Under the "Van Allen Apartments" plan, 14 one-bedroom and five two-bedroom units will be built to rent. Seven units are targeted for tenants at or below 50 percent of the area median income, and 10 apartments will benefit residents at or below 60 percent of the area median income for Clinton County. Two apartments will be leased at market rates. Heartland and Community Housing Initiatives proposes an apartment design that accommodates unique space in the old building. The second and third floors could provide a total of 14 units with six one-bedroom units averaging 680 square feet and one two-bedroom unit hosting 750 to 825 square feet. Some of the mezzanine and third-floor areas will allow two one-bedroom units to be designed with two stories, giving their residents 1,350 square feet of living space. The street-level floor will offer 7,050 square feet of business space.
Management duties will be performed by Community Housing Initiatives, which already manages nearly 278 housing units in the region. Supporters say the project will increase the lacking supply of affordable rental housing in Clinton, and add to the city's revitalization efforts under way in the downtown and riverfront areas. That's a stark contrast with the building's expected fate about 10 years ago.
After watching the building sit empty for a long time, a group of local residents feared the Van Allen building eventually would be leveled. Their words convinced the city to save the building by purchasing it from the Van Allen family, who had retained ownership of the property even after selling the department store business. However, the city had no intention of keeping the building in its care. "The city doesn't need to be in the real estate business of a vacant, four-story building," said city planner John Staszewski. "The city bought it just to keep it from being torn down." That's why a request in November from Heartland Properties and Community Housing Initiatives to purchase the property came as a relief to most city council members, Mayor LaMetta Wynn said. Former council member Mike Drury was the only one to vote against it, saying the city's $300,000 contribution to help provide 19 parking stalls was too expensive. The city agreed to sell the property for $1 through an 18- month option to purchase. The city also will provide a 10-year graduated tax abatement on the property improvements, with the initial assessment set at or below $75,000.
Community Housing Initiatives president Doug LaBounty said urban renewal projects such as the Van Allen proposal usually are slow to pull together, but worth the wait. He said the company partnership could build the same number and size of apartments in a new structure for $400,000 to $500,000 less -- but saving an irreplaceable landmark means a bigger investment, and more time to enjoy it. "It's a solid brick structure. This building could stand for another 500 years, where new construction doesn't last that long," LaBounty said. "They just don't build them like they used to."

Blue Dot
Gold Dot
Blue Dot

Home | Communities | Properties | Who We Are | TrackPro | Links | News

Heartland Properties Logo