A long-overdue polish will begin this month on a junk-filled building that is a rough diamond on Webster City’s mainstreet. The former Elks Club building, 604 Second St., is the first project that Local Initiative for Transformation WC LLC, or LIFT WC, will undertake. The new nonprofit organization was formed to help grow and support the social and economic prosperity of Webster City, while honoring and preserving the history of the community. The group also hopes to create educational, recreational, social and cultural opportunities into the future. Those are some lofty goals, but ones that officials with say are attainable.
LIFT WC’s first such task is to save and renovate the iconic Elks Club.
The idea for LIFT WC started last year when the city of Webster City got involved with the Elks building.
“We had an opportunity to spend Community Development Block Grant funds on the blight of the building by restoring the facade,” Lindsay Henderson, Webster City’s community vitality director, said.
Henderson and Darcy Swon serve on the LIFT board, Henderson as president and Swon as secretary. John Hawkins, Webster City’s mayor, is the vice president; Zach Chizek is treasurer, and Jake Pulis rounds out the five-person board.
Webster City entered into a conditional purchase agreement with the building’s owner, Merlyn Tungesvik, of Webster City in the summer of 2018.
But the state, with guidance from the federal government, said the city couldn’t take possession at the time; it had to wait until the facade improvements were made.
Still, some of the CDBG requirements advanced. One was an environmental review and the another a historical assessment.
“In the meantime, I was trying to find a solution where the city didn’t have to take up ownership of the building,” Henderson said.
She told the Webster City City Council that, in the best case scenario, a nonprofit group would step forward to take the lead on the full restoration of the building.
“But we knew the facade work would save the building,” she said. “The engineer who inspected it said the work would help eliminate the threat of moisture penetration through the brick and windows. That would give the building a second chance.”
Henderson approached HERO, the organization that took on the successful purchase and renovation of the Webster Theatre. But HERO members weren’t ready to take on another large-scale project.
It was at that point that Henderson and a few others decided to form the nonprofit and begin the work to take ownership of the Elks.
“This building, in our minds, is just the first project,” she said. “The goal is to keep on rolling and doing things to catalyze and improve our downtown, particularly. We thought this was the first catalyst opportunity.”
LIFT made a presentation to the Council Monday night. At that time, the Council voted to donate $40,000 to the nonprofit to kick off the project. That was the original price the city planned to pay for the Elks Club.
Henderson said the group has negotiated a price of $25,000 for the purchase of the building, which would leave some funds available to help with the insurance and other costs, including inevitable landfill fees. Both Henderson and Swon praised Tungesvik for his help and willingness to work with LIFT.
LIFT will take possession of the building on Good Friday, April 19.
That weekend will mark the beginning of the process of clearing out what’s left in it. The goal is to have it completely cleaned out for Junquefest on Memorial Day weekend.
The plan, then, is to open the doors for people to see what’s left.
“We want people to be able to come and walk through the building. So many people are interested in seeing what’s going on in there,” Swon said.
“We’ll also have items of value for sale then,” she said.
Some items from the building may be donated to other nonprofits or shelters.
“It’s the community coming together on this building and that’s a way we could give back,” Swon said.
The facade work will likely take place this summer.
According to Henderson, the interior of the building is still in great shape. Architectural features such as tin ceilings and hardwood moldings and bannisters are still intact.
“The top floor, which is the ballroom, is still in decent shape,” said Henderson. “There are several different spaces that could be utilized on the main level. The basement is also in very decent shape.”
An engineer determined that the building is structurally sound.
A team of University of Iowa civil engineering students have been looking at the Elks building to assess what will be needed to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“They’ve been working on that ADA puzzle for us,” Henderson said.
While there are no firm numbers, the interior renovations and ADA updates could total $1 million.
When the building is completely restored, LIFT hopes it will become a multi-use commercial space.
“And as a nonprofit owning this building, our goal with any lease revenue would be to spin that back into further improvements or maybe take on another project.”
Additionally, the group hopes to target businesses that would focus on cultural activities and entertainment — a social gathering place.
“Not a community center, per se, but the types of businesses that would bring people together — live music, art classes, and all sorts of things going on in there,” she said.
LIFT just launched its Facebook page and within just a few hours, already had 100 followers.
“The number of people who want to be involved in something positive has been overwhelming,” Swon said.
Volunteer opportunities and schedules will be available soon, she said.
The evolution of how to polish the downtown diamond has been a conversation topic for a long time.
“Enhance Hamilton County Foundation stepped forward and said they believe in the project. They said it’s a proactive project to revitalize in the community and they wanted to take part,” Swon said.
Working through the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, a fund was opened.
“Charitable donations can be made through the Enhance Hamilton County Foundation to the LIFT WC fund,” Swon said.
View this story as it originally appeared in the Daily Freeman-Journal.
Last modified: April 10, 2019