An undated photo shows two of the three separate storefronts that made up the Pizza Ranch building. The city has been working to revert the building to its original configuration.

City expects to have work done in 2020

City seeking to keep historic Square intact

By RICK MORAIN

For The Jefferson Herald

Jefferson building and code enforcement official Nick Sorensen at the Nov. 26 city council meeting briefed the council concerning work on the half-dozen downtown buildings the city owns.

Asbestos has been abated in most of the buildings. Roofs have been replaced or repaired on some, with roof work yet to do on others.

Electrical installation has taken place in a couple of buildings, with more to come in most of the others. Some buildings have had windows replaced, and others await window work.

Other improvements — either completed or awaiting their turn — include debris removal, exterior repair, floor replacement, paint, wall repair, ceiling work, heating/air conditioning replacement, and other repairs.

Sorensen said completion dates are uncertain because of the work schedules of subcontractors. 

Two of the buildings should be ready for occupancy by March, and all of them should be completed during 2020.

The city has been acquiring and improving empty, dilapidated buildings around the Square since May 2015, when it originally accepted 205 N. Wilson Ave., along with $5,000 to be put toward its rehabilitation, from the estate of Bud Nelson.

A second acquisition followed in September 2015 with 111 E. Lincoln Way — now home to Sensibly Chic, so far the only one of the city’s buildings to be sold.

The city in April 2016 purchased 200 E. State St. — rechristened “City View on State” — from a California bank for $100.

The city next acquired the former Pizza Ranch building at 206 N. Wilson Ave. after arson in 2016 destroyed the business. The work to date has concentrated on reverting the space back to its original configuration of three separate storefronts, the earliest of which dates to 1900.

This year has seen the city add two more buildings to its portfolio — the former Air-Temp building on the east side of the Square in March for $6,600, and the Angie’s Tea Garden building on Nov. 19 for $1,200 (the current amount owed in taxes).

Before his re-election in November, city council member Matt Wetrich said he supported the city’s acquisition of buildings.

“On the whole, yes, the city does need to acquire buildings from time to time, because previously nobody was doing anything about it,” Wetrich said in a Q&A with The Jefferson Herald in late October. “In cities where no one buys downtown buildings, the buildings crumble, become unsafe and end up in the city’s hands anyway by default. The city is left with demolishing the building and stuck with a six-figure bill.”

“By our city being forward thinking and stepping in before it’s too late,” he added, “that demolition money turns into renovation and restoration money, saving our beautiful downtown business district and adding tremendous value to our charming downtown — the lifeblood of a small community like ours.”

Current city councilman and mayor-elect Matt Gordon noted before the election that Jefferson is one of just four cities in the state with an intact city square.

“Although I don’t think the city of Jefferson should be in the real-estate business,” Gordon said, “I also know we cannot let our buildings crumble to the ground. As expensive as it is to repair and restore many of the buildings we already own, it is far more expensive to build new ones to replace them.”

In other matters at the Nov. 26 meeting, City Administrator Mike Palmer informed the council that City Clerk Diane Kennedy will be retiring Jan. 1 after 40 years of service to the city. 

Kennedy will be helping with the transition for her replacement.

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Jefferson, IA 50129

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