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Charles City Council OKs grant application to work on marketing empty Kmart building

Charles City Council OKs grant application to work on marketing empty Kmart building
Members of the Charles City Council and city staff attend a regular City Council meeting Monday evening, April 6, via Zoom teleconference.
By Bob Steenson,

The Charles City Council approved a proclamation naming April as Child Abuse Prevention Month in the community, agreed to street closings for the weekly farmers markets, and supported a grant application to work on options for the old Kmart building, during a council regular meeting this week.

The council approved a resolution supporting an application for a Rural Innovation Grant through the Iowa Economic Development Authority. If approved, the community would need up to $10,000 to match up to $20,000 from the state, for a total $30,000 that could be used “to help find a plausible way to utilize and/or help fill the vacant Kmart building.”

City Administrator Steve Diers said the state is looking for “collaborative efforts that show projects that could be replicated across the state.”

The proposal is to split the local $10,000 match four ways, or $2,500 each, among the City Council, the Charles City Area Development Corp., developer Mike Hayworth of Rosemont Companies, and ISG Engineering.

A five-way split had originally been suggested, with the Charles City Area Chamber of Commerce taking part.

Diers said the Chamber “certainly wants to be involved in this process,” but it doesn’t have $2,000 to put into the application now.

He said they had reached out to the building owner, Seritage Growth Properties, of New York, which had been leasing the building to Kmart, regarding taking an active roll and maybe sharing some of the cost.

“It took awhile and we finally heard some response,” Diers said. “They’re certainly supportive of this effort. They do not have funding to put toward it, but I did ask for access to blueprints and the building. They’re willing and able to do that, but unfortunately they don’t have funding available.”

Area Development Corp. Executive Director Tim Fox will write the grant application, Diers said, and if approved the groups would work together on a plan on how to market the Kmart building. For example, he said, engineers could say whether posts could be removed to create a greater clearspan area, or if other options are available for the structure.

“To really help facilitate anybody that might show interest in purchasing that building you’ve got to have some of that legwork and initial heavy lifting done … to make it enticing to somebody that wants to purchase that building, whether it be a single entity or multiple entities, which is probably the more likely scenario,” Diers said.

The council passed a resolution approving participation in the grant application, with only a few comments.

Council member DeLaine Freeseman said he doesn’t like to get involved in something that involves private property, “but I think in this case we need to get into this thing somehow to see if we can help get it moved or get it repurposed or whatever.”

“I think these people are just way too far away from us here, have no interest here, and they probably don’t care what happens to it. I just think this is something we seriously need to consider,” Freeseman said.

Mayor Dean Andrews said he agreed with Freeseman that the city needs to do some local pushing on the project.

Also at the meeting, Community Development Director Mark Wicks said the downtown farmers market sponsored by Main Street Charles City will open for the season on Saturday, May 1, and run through Saturday, Oct. 16.

As in previous years, it will be held Wednesdays from 3:30 to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon, along Blunt Street adjacent to Central Park.

The council approved closing Blunt Street from North Main Street to North Jackson Street, beginning an hour before the farmers market begins and reopening the street a half hour after the market closes on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The state has dropped all of its COVID-19 mitigation requirements from last year, Wicks said, but it is strongly recommending some measures that the city will be following, including 6-foot distancing between the vendor booths, which will cut the number of booth spaces available from about 24 spots to about 16.

“We are requiring all vendors to have hand sanitizer available for public use at their booth, and masks are encouraged but not required,” he said. “We also have the same signs we had last year, asking people who have symptoms or who have tested positive recently to not enter the farmers market area that day.”

Wicks also asked council approval to use the city-owned parking lot behind the Community Development Office at 401 N. Main Street for the July 3 and July 10 farmers market.

He explained that Central Park and Blunt Street will be used on those days for the city Independence Day events on Saturday, July 3, and the Charles City Rotary Club’s inaugural “Santa’s Shine & Show” car show and concert on Saturday, July 10.

July 4 is on a Sunday this year, and “we don’t want to interfere with church services on Sunday,” Wicks said, so the Independence Day parade and Central Park activities will be held on Saturday, July 3.

The City Council granted permission to close Blunt Street and to use the parking lot on the days and times requested.

Wicks said they had already picked up a couple of new vendors, and “we’re looking forward to a strong farmers market season this year.”

In other action, the council:

• Approved the second reading of an ordinance amending city code regarding off-street loading and parking paving requirements.

City Engineer John Fallis said parking lots abutting major streets — Highway 18, Highway 14, Main Street, Clark Street, Jackson Street and E Street — will require hard surfacing with portland cement concrete, hit mix asphalt or permeable pavers for 38 feet from the street right-of-way, and beyond the 38 feet the parking can be paved with hard surface, asphalt millings or crushed rock.

Local streets would require hard surface or asphalt millings in the 38 feet abutting the street right-of-way, and any area beyond that 38 feet would be up to the business owner and could be hard surface or aggregate.

• Approved leasing part of the city parking lot in front of Theisen’s to be used for Theisen’s garden center, for a price of $250 per month including electrical use.

• Approved leasing about seven acres of land near the water resource recovery facility project to Terry Wegner for row crop production, for $1,200 for the year.

• Heard a city administrator’s report from Diers that included noting the city spring cleanup had begun Monday with dumpsters being delivered to residences that reserved them for 24 hours. He said efforts were being made to turn the dumpsters around as quickly as possible to make them available to as many people as possible.

Diers also said that the 228-3366 number for the Police Department will move with the dispatch team to the courthouse when the dispatchers relocate, because that number has become more closely associated with dispatch. The Police Department will get a new phone number.

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