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Vine building undergoing renovation

BY QUENTIN MISIAG | JUNE 13, 2013 5:00 AM

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One Iowa City building, recently designated a local historic landmark, is undergoing preservation efforts that the owner says the city has lost sight of in recent years.

Joe Kennedy, the owner of the Iowa City and Coralville Vine Taverns, has been quietly and mindfully restoring the Iowa City location’s building for just a few days, despite initial plans having been in the works for roughly a year.

And he said his plan to renovate his decades-old Iowa City restaurant and the introduction of high-end studio apartments on the building’s upper floors may be just the needed encouragement to save other older structures from facing the wrecking ball, while of the same token, bringing a more “mature and professional” residential clientele to the near downtown area south of Bowery Street.

Kennedy, with architect John Shaw, decided to restore the structure instead of tearing it down to build cheaper student apartments.

The investment, Kennedy said, has begun to pay off. As of Wednesday evening, one-third of the apartments, whose rents will range from $825 to $925 a month, have been accounted for.

John Shaw, lead architect for the project, echoed Kennedy's sentiments regarding historic preservation. He said the S. Gilbert St. corridor, today home to a handful of bars, restaurants and liquor stores, once stood as the main industrial center for the community.

"[The Vine] is a very good representative building of that era in Iowa City," he said. "I think that we are in the process of tearing down our own culture." ... "Preserving these cultural landmarks reminds us who we were, who we are, and helps us understand who we will become in the future."

“It’s a really desirable area to live in,” Kennedy said of the soon-to-open apartments’ proximity to downtown. “Apartments that are being built [downtown] are multi-tenant apartments and definitely cater to the undergrads. I felt that it was a sort of area that wasn’t being met.”

The circa 1900 building, which in its history has been home to a animal feed, cattle, and hog supply company, furniture store, and motorcycle shop, is just one of a handful left in the city, he said.

“It’s a part of our history that is quite frankly getting lost,” he said. “There are only a few of them left.”

The Iowa City City Council approved several amendments related to historic landmarks, including the option to add apartments on or below street level, as well as designating the property a historic property by a 7-0 vote during an April 24 meeting. The Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of the first amendment, and the Historic Preservation Commission joined the Planning and Zoning Commission in recommending approval of the historic designation.

Although Kennedy’s project shuttered the restaurant on June 3 to undergo renovations, the result will bring about an expanded kitchen and menu, new outdoor patio and restrooms, and an updated interior while maintaining the character of the more than 100-year old building. He said he expects to open the restaurant once again during the first week in July.

During the closure of the Iowa City restaurant, Kennedy said he has seen a noticeable increase in business at its Coralville Strip location and has seen steady growth from year to year since purchasing the two restaurants in 1983 and 1998, above the industry standard.

City Councilor Terry Dickens told the DI in a March 5 interview that he thought the building was important to preserve.

“There’s a lot of historical value in that area; that building has been around as long as I can remember,” he said. “It’s important to save those buildings.”

Kennedy said he is happy to see increased attention directed to neighborhoods outside downtown, a focus he says, has been lacking in recent years.

“I’m glad that they are giving us some attention down here,” he said. “It used to be they just focused on the Ped Mall and Linn Street. But now, they’ve put us in that class where we get a little more respect down here.”


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