Downtown Iowa City space set for complete renovation


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The owner of the last remaining vacant building along a two-block portion of South Clinton Street hopes a $650,000 renovation project can help continue the wave of recent downtown redevelopment projects while preserving a piece of Iowa City’s past.

Come Aug. 1, what will become the Grossix Building, 30 S. Clinton St., will see a new, more modern life and, for the first time in history, apartments.

This will mark the end of a nearly two-year period of an absence of a year-round retailer. Most recently, the Merci and December pop-up consignment stores called the building home.

“This is a really stellar location,” building owner and Iowa City native Vera Gross said. “I would say that in the past 1½ to two years, I’ve been approached by 25 to 30 people interested in the [retail] space.”

Gross, who now resides in Knoxville, Tenn., said the early 1860s building has been in her family for nearly 27 years, since her mother operated Gilda Imports, a Scandinavian-inspired home furnishings and gift store. Prior to that, it was home to the Hawkeye Bookstore, which used a dumbwaiter to transport books between each floor.

“She always wanted me to do something with the building and keep it in the family,” Gross said.
Jeff Davidson, the city director of planning and development, said the renovation is in line with what the city hopes to achieve downtown in the coming years.

“I think the renovation of this building meets the city’s goals in a number of ways: expanding downtown retail, creating downtown housing opportunities [whether leased or sold], increasing taxable value of property by renovating unused upper floors of buildings, and preserving historic structures,” he wrote in an email.

Liza Showalter, a former Merci employee, said she believes bringing in a quality retailer and additional high-end living spaces is another opportunity to improve the environment downtown.

“The location is ideal, and the foot traffic is amazing,” she said. “You have the view of the Capitol and the convenience. The building itself has so much longevity, and I think she [Gross] will choose something that will be there for a long time. It’s the perfect opportunity for a tenant for a high-end price point. There is this opportunity for bringing downtown’s culture back. If I know her, she will want to put money back into the community. I definitely think it will be local.”

Darren Spenler, who co-owns Swisher-based TD Builders, said extensive work should begin Feb. 25. When complete, the building will feature all-new energy-efficient windows, a building-wide sprinkler system, separate residential and retail entrances, and exterior façade improvements, including new paint.

“Basically, anything you see now minus the hardwood floor on the first floor and the exposed brick inside will be gone,” he said. “We’ll pretty much give the tenant a white box, and they can do what they want with the space.”

The second and third floors will each include one one-bedroom apartment with 1½ baths. The fully finished basement will offer storage for the residential and retail tenants.  The owner hopes the approximately 1,000- and 1,300-square-foot residential units will each rent for $2,000 and $2,300 per month. The roughly 950-square-foot retail space will aim for a rent of nearly $23,000 per month.

“The finishes in the apartments will be pretty minimalistic, kind of going to that hotelVetro look,” Spenler said. “They will definitely not be a college kid’s apartment.”

Neumann Monson intern architect and project manager Nathan Griffith believes downtown is on the cusp of a new wave of residential development.

“[The Grossix Building] will definitely set the precedent for the flat- and loft-building downtown,” he said. “There are a lot of buildings next door that have done renovations. We’re being very sensitive of the building and keeping the look and feel of it historic. I think this will push more businesses to renovate their spaces.”

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