Thursday, April 04, 2013

Congress comes to the Charitone

U.S. Rep Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa City), who represents those of us in Iowa's 2nd Congressional District, was in town yesterday for a tour of the Hotel Charitone project --- giving several  of us an opportunity to explore progress inside as we tagged along. Loebsack is second from the right here and his legislative aide, Dien Judge (one of the Georgetown Judges), at far right. Others in the photo are (from left) Vern Vogel, Chariton Area Chamber/Main Street president; Kris Patrick, Main Street coordinator; and (with her back turned) Shantel Dow, Chamber/Main Street executive director.

And of course that's the Charitone in the distance. What is not evident here is that all of the upper-floor windows have been removed during the last three months and those that will face North Grand and Braden are elsewhere being restored. New windows are being built for the north and east facades of the building. Their installation/re-installation later this year will make a world of difference in appearance. Material for interior construction work is being moved into the building through windows that appear to be open or blocked with newer plywood.

Once inside, Tod Hockenson (left), Hy-Vee vice president for distribution, showed Loebsack the latest plans for the ground floor "lobby" level, which will be filled by a restaurant operated by Hy-Vee, major restoration investor in the Charitone project, now in its second year. Hy-Vee Chairman and CEO Ric Jurgens formally announced the project and the corporation's $1.6 million commitment to it on March 1, 2012.

The most noticeable change at lobby level for those of us who hadn't been inside since earlier this year involves the steel support structure of the 1923 building, now entirely sandblasted and repainted from top to bottom with replacement steel added when necessary and the area that will house a new northside entrance from street level newly framed. Although not evident here, the service area beyond the far wall also has been completely reworked since January. Ray Meyer, of Hotel Charitone LLC, is doing the pointing here.

On the fourth floor, where apartments have been framed since January, it now is possible to step inside what will become each of the four units and get some idea of what it might be like to live there. Each of the hotel's top three floors will house four apartments, three of them two-bedroom and one, one-bedroom. The view at left is out a window from the east apartment on the fourth floor.

Having climbed three flights of the hotel's original staircase to reach the fourth floor, Loebsack asked about access to the apartments. Tenants will enter the building through either the restored Braden Avenue entrance or a new handicap-accessible entry yet to be installed through the north wall. Once inside, tenants will use either the main stair or the elevator --- a new car will be installed in the original shaft. The hallway on each floor also will contain an emergency exit to a new steel stairway from top to bottom of the building yet to be constructed on its north side. Judge is standing here beside the elevator shaft on the fourth floor. And that's construction dust you see in some of these photographs, caught in the flash. Workers were doing their best to stay out of range all over the building during our visit.

Our final stop Wednesday was the hotel basement, now clean and dry and relatively bright (windows blocked over the years will be reopened at this level later to allow natural light in). When I first came down here last March, the basement was filthy, littered with debris, wet (rain entering through the damaged roof cascaded all the way to the basement) and pitch black.

Hy-Vee's $1.6 million investment in restoration will be supplemented by $500,000 from the Vredenburg Foundation, smaller gifts from other organizations and individuals and federal and state preservation tax credits. Additional tax-deductible contributions would be appreciated and may be made to the non-profit Lucas County Preservation Alliance.

Although there is no firm deadline for completing the project, the hope is to have the building returned to life and fully operational by late this year.

No comments: