Downtown renovation nearing completion
By BRANDON HURLEY
As the sounds of saws and jackhammers rattle throughout the Square, residents can rest assured an extensive makeover is in its final stages.
Jefferson building inspector Nick Sorensen said the 13-building, Community Development Block Grant-funded downtown revitalization project, which began in early summer, is about 85 percent finished with an expected completion date set for December.
“Realistically, we have two of our larger projects still in progress (Muir Embroidery and Ace Hardware),” he said. “The other 11 are very close to finished, if not finished.”
Thirteen buildings in all were pegged to join in on the beautification of the historic Square as part of the downtown revitalization.
The building owners and city officials pulled together $500,000 ($250,000 from the city and $250,000 from the participating businesses) to match a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant awarded to Jefferson in May 2016 with the goal of preserving the historic downtown district.
Those close to the project, including Peg Raney of Jefferson Matters: Main Street, Sorensen and City Administrator Mike Palmer, wanted the makeovers to bring in more natural light while encouraging shoppers to stop in.
They also pushed to pay tribute to the characteristics that make the historic buildings so special.
Many of the structures surrounding the Square were built in the late 1800s, an aspect the city wanted to acknowledge.
Iconic windows and natural light had gone by the wayside over the decades to curb heating and cooling costs.
It was time to make a change.
“Part of the whole process is to not necessarily (go) back to the age when the buildings were built, but to pay homage to it,” Sorensen said. “Obviously, with technology getting better, energy efficiency is possible with having more glass.”
The Muir Embroidery establishment on the west side of the Square has been one of the more involved projects of the downtown revitalization — and also became one of the most important due to safety concerns.
Built in 1873, the building was showing its age, with noticeable cracks and a threat of deterioration. The city approached owners Todd and Roxanne Muir to see if they’d like to join the project.
“They saw some of the cracking that had opened up,” said Ian Johnson, son-in-law of Todd and Roxanne Muir and a 15-year employee of their embroidery business. “It made it more of an urgent need because they were worried about it falling apart and out onto the street.”
The building was a perfect example of what the downtown revitalization project was ultimately hoping to prevent.
“The main idea was to address slum and blight. Deficiencies in the buildings that you may not see right now but could arise later,” Sorensen said. “We knew the cracks were there, but to what extent? We figured out it needed to be replaced before it would fall.
“It was the same thing with a lot of other buildings. How far do we go with it? Would it have fallen next year, or in 20 years? Who knows. But we were able to address it with this grant.”
Project architect Pete Franks with The Franks Design Group of Glenwood specializes in historic preservation. He has helped visualize — and implement — what the city dreamt up nearly two years ago and has been an asset in challenges like the Muir Embroidery building.
“Being able to look at a building with a slip cover on it, to somebody walking down the street, they wouldn’t know behind it there used to be very tall windows or big columns,” Sorensen said. “Architects that specialize in that field, with pretty good certainty, can tell what’s there. We also have reference photos to go off of.”
The whole project, Sorensen said, while a little behind schedule, has gone well. As excitement builds for the end date, business owners can begin to envision what the new-look makeovers will do for business.
“Once we get a front back, it will be a lot better for walk-in traffic. It’ll look a lot nicer, it’ll have energy efficient windows,” Johnson, of Muir Embroidery, said. “We will have a better display room up front. The building won’t look bad anymore.
“It’ll make downtown Jefferson look better, too. Not just us. They want to keep from having a ‘missing tooth look’ as the (city) called it by maintaining the downtown.”
Despite the constant ruckus caused by hammering, sawing and general demolition, Johnson said it’s been a fairly smooth process, all things considered.
“The city has been really good to work with,” Johnson said. “Nick Sorensen has taken a lot of his personal time to make sure we are treated fairly, to make sure everything is flowing smoothly.”
While the initial completion date was set for Thanksgiving, the city is expecting things to take a little longer with three buildings still in need of significant work.
“The building owners have been very happy with the work being done,” Raney said.
“The downtown is looking really beautiful,” she added.
As the final leg of the journey nears, a “Celebration Walk” at 5 p.m. Nov. 13 will take residents on a visual tour of the Square, with 10-minute presentations on each of the 13 buildings.
While the entire project isn’t yet complete and some businesses will still be under construction, a chance for residents to speak directly with the architects was a big calling card.
“We wanted to make sure they got the credit they deserve,” Sorensen said. “We want the community to come out and listen to what the architect says, the more that the community knows how involved this project was, the better.”
Sorensen continued, “It’s really a big catalyst for the downtown. It’s been fun, it’s been time consuming, but in the right way.
“I’m excited to see this come to an end, because the finish line is a chance for us to step back and appreciate what the Square is becoming.”