Van Allen developers give tour of renovation work

 
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Note: this article appeared in the Quad-City Times, article by Kay Luma.
CLINTON, Iowa - Gov. Tom Vilsack stood between bare steel beams Monday, wearing a white construction hard hat in the chilly upper floors of the former Van Allen and Sons Department Store building.
Nearby, Elizabeth Van Allen watched the governor sip coffee from a foam cup, recalling the same spot that once was the children's department at the store. Her husband, John B. Van Allen, served as the store's last president.
The two walked among about 50 invited guests upstairs through former corner offices, retail departments and public restrooms, where beams mark the site of future walls for 19 brightly lit apartments in the long-vacant downtown building.
"When this is finished, we're going to have a statement about our view of the future," Vilsack said. "A hopeful, optimistic view of the future."
The estimated $3.1 million renovation project led by Heartland Properties of Madison, Wis., a subsidiary of Alliant Energy, is expected to be completed next summer.
Wagner Pharmacy plans to move into 6,000 square feet of first-floor retail space in the building and apartments will occupy the upper levels, officials said.
In the meantime, construction work is ongoing to replace large plate-glass windows, create new walls and restore original mahogany details designed by famous architect Louis Sullivan.
The building - listed on the National Register of Historic Places - also will feature a new computer center and high-tech Internet service, new elevator, a three-story atrium with a skylight and a rooftop deck to showcase a grand view of the Mississippi River.
Mary Jane Case of Camanche wandered the store with the tour group Monday, marveling at how well the building commissioned by her grandfather, John D. Van Allen, has withstood the test of time.
"The first thing that strikes you is this building was built to last," Vilsack said. "It's a great project for downtown Clinton."
For more than 60 years, the building located at the corner of 5th Avenue South and South 2nd Street was home to the Van Allen and Sons Department Store. The business was sold to Petersen-Harned-Von Maur and later closed its doors in the 1980s, remaining vacant ever since.
The city purchased the building soon after the store closed in an effort to save it from the wrecking ball and hoping someone would be interested in purchasing and restoring the building.
That was a bold move, Mayor LaMetta Wynn said, but turned out to be a good decision. The mayor, who still uses Christmas dishes purchased at the Van Allen store, said the landmark is an important part of Clinton's history, and now will be better preserved.
Several officials praised the cooperation of state and city entities to help fund the renovation work. Tom Aller of Alliant Energy Investments said the project is "bringing new life not only to this building, but to downtown Clinton."
"Time changes everything," Elizabeth Van Allen said, standing on the first floor of the old department store. "I think anyone would be happy that it's being made into something worthwhile like this and not torn down. Time marches on, and you can't be sad about things that have to change."
Developer Doug LaBounty of Community Housing Initiatives said he already is beginning to receive application requests for the one- and two-bedroom units in the upper floors of the four-story Van Allen building.
The apartments will be geared for tenants with low or moderate incomes. He said rent for 17 apartments deemed as "affordable housing" will cost about $300 for one bedroom and $360 for two bedrooms. Two apartments will be leased at market rates of $425 for one bedroom and about $500 for a two-bedroom unit.
Community Housing Initiatives in Spencer, Iowa, will serve as manager of the property. Apartment lease contracts will be made beginning in the spring. For application information, call (712) 262-5965.

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