Developer shows public interest in Clinton's Van Allen Building

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Note: Printed with Permission from The Clinton Herald, article by Jason Liegois.
CLINTON - After about 18 months of behind the scenes negotiations with city and business leaders, a partnership of developers publicly expressed its desire to renovate the historic Van Allen Building Tuesday night.
Dean Baumgardner, vice president of Heartland Properties Inc. in Madison, Wis., and Doug LaBounty, president of Community Housing Initiatives (CHI) Inc. in Spencer, made the presentation to the Clinton City Council during its Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday night.
"We have a vision for redeveloping the Van Allen Building that will be a win-win situation," Baumgardner said to the City Council.
The Van Allen Building, a vacant city-owned property located at Fifth Avenue South and Second Street, was built from 1913 to 1915 and designed by world-renown architect Louis B. Sullivan.
The city has been looking for a buyer for the property for the past couple of years. It was announced earlier this year that a possible unknown buyer had shown substantial interest in purchasing the property.
Discussions between the potential developers, the city and local business leaders have been ongoing for the past 18 months, but this was the first public discussion of their plans for the building.
The $2.1 million project is scheduled to be completed by fall 2001. It would invest $201,000 in the development of the first floor of the building as commercial space. Heartland, a division of Alliant Energy, and CHI are hoping a public organization could become the sole occupant of the first floor to enhance public opportunities to view the restored building, with retail business as an alternative.
"We want to make sure it's a sure thing," Baumgardner said.
The remainder of the project funds would be used to develop the upper three floors of the building. It would be used for the creation of 14 one-bedroom and five two-bedroom housing units. About 10 to 20 percent will be market rate units, while the remainder will be affordable housing.
LaBounty said the project would be paid for through a mix of conventional financing and a series of state and federal grants and loans.
"We currently have no financing gap," LaBounty said.
Heartland and CHI would become limited partners on the development of the building. Among the developer's requests were an 18-month option to acquire the building for $1 and the creation of 19 parking spaces adjacent to the building.
"We feel this (the parking) is critical," Baumgardner said.
Steve Bamman, director of the Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce's Downtown Partnership, said the most viable option is the removal of 100 feet of back space west of the building from a former shoe store and the former Kline's Department store.
Both buildings would retain their storefronts and about 40 feet deep worth of space. Bamman said the property owners were open to that development.
The program would cost about $300,000 paid by the city. John Eisenhauer of the Chamber of Commerce said it would look for funding sources to help the city pay for the project.
"If I had the money, it'd be on the project," Eisenhauer said.
City Council reaction to the plan was very favorable. Ward 2 Councilwoman Pam Graboski had the opportunity to visit other Heartland developments of old or historic properties in Wisconsin with Eisenhauer and Mayor LaMetta Wynn.
"I was very impressed with the quality of work that they did with all those old buildings," Graboski said.
Ward 4 Councilwoman Bette Oakley said the Heartland offer was probably the best proposal the city had received for the building.
"I think we've finally found the answer we've been looking for," Oakley said. "I'm finally feeling comfortable with this (proposal)."
The developers said they would like a formal show of support from the City Council within the next couple of weeks so they can move ahead with grant applications for the project.
While the City Council took no formal action on the issue at the meeting, City Administrator George Langmack said the City Council or an individual member could request the issue be placed on the Oct. 26 regular agenda about five days before the meeting.

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