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Preserving downtown

Speakers discuss ways to finance and restore historic Webster City buildings, landmarks

August 30, 2012
Anne Blankenship ( , The Daily Freeman Journal

Webster City building owners, contractors and city officials gathered for a Chamber of Commerce sponsored program on "How to Preserve Webster City" Thursday noon at Trinity Lutheran Church. The program was part of the Chamber's "From How to Wow" seminar series.

Jim Tometich, of Tometich Engineering in Urbandale, and John Koester of Koester Construction and Preservation Partners, Grimes, were the presenters.

The two have been involved in many historic building restorations throughout the state. They told the group that Webster City has many interesting downtown buildings.

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Jim Tometich of Tometich Engineering, Urbandale, was one of the speakers Thursday at the Chamber of Commerce-sponsored seminar, “How to Preserve Webster City.” John Koester of Koester Construction was the other speaker.

"There are some cool buildings here. Sometimes you live too close to realize the treasures you have," said Tometich.

"Typically, when we get the call, the building is falling down and we don't get to see them in their glory," Koester added.

The two said that the majority of Iowa's downtown building were built from 1880 to 1920. The growth of downtown areas slowed and halted following World War I and during the depression and World War II, according to Koester.

With the construction of the interstate highway system in the 1950s and 1960s, developments generally grew away from downtown areas. Urban sprawl in the 1970s meant the heart of communities were no longer downtown.

In recent years, cities have found themselves with deteriorating and often abandoned downtown buildings.

"The first thing that happens is the roof goes," Koester said. "Then there is a slow deterioration with water seeping down through the walls." From there, the buildings can become not only eyesores, and non-productive properties, but also hazardous structures which can be expensive to demolish as well as negatively impacting the property values of adjacent buildings.

"Instead of putting $30,000 to $40,000 towards demolition costs, why not put that towards restoration?" Tometich said.

The speakers outlined a variety of restoration and renovation funding sources available.

Those include historic tax credits from both the state and federal government, Webster City's commercial rehabilitation loan program, historic preservation planning grants, low income housing credits, enterprise zone tax credits, new market tax credits and utility rebates.

"State historic tax credits are worth 25 percent of the total cost," Koester said, adding that federal credits could total 20 percent of the project cost.

As building owners are looking at projects, Tometich said he comes in and does an assessment of the structure, outlining needed repairs and how they can be accomplished. Then the Koester's firm can put together a plan on how to approach those repairs along with associated costs.

The two stressed that to obtain historic preservation funding, the project must follow guidelines set out by the government.

Koester said Preservation Partners has often taken on the role of grant writer for projects, helping owners to locate funding and tax credits.

An audience member asked if some of the old Webster City buildings would qualify for funding and tax credits. Both Tometich and Koester agreed that some could be eligible.

"Be proactive," Tometich suggested. "Take action before the buildings crumble and become hazards."



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