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IOWA CITY - Hieronymus Square promised to transform what for years had remained an empty concrete lot in downtown Iowa City.
Approved in its place, at the corner of South Clinton and East Burlington streets, were two seven-story towers connected via a rooftop terrace, to the tune of about $41 million.
One tower will hold The Edge, with 43 high-end condos, plus commercial and office space, while the other will be home to a Marriott Element, with about 90 rooms tailored toward guests on extended stays in the city.
Iowa City Council members in September 2017 unanimously voted to support the project with an $8 million tax increment financing package, as part of the city's development agreement with the Hieronymus family, Kinseth Hospitality and Hodge Construction.
At that meeting, Mayor Jim Throgmorton said he once told council members, 'This is the most important site in Iowa City right now, and we need to make sure we get a really good development on it.”
He added at the meeting that he believed the Hieronymus Square towers would be a 'signature project” for the council.
Construction on the project began in early fall 2018, and the condos originally were supposed to open in August, with the hotel completed by the end of 2019.
Those plans fell through, however, after a third-floor fire broke out at the construction site March 5. Several cases of combustible subfloor adhesives had come in contact with a liquid propane-fueled radiant heater.
The 100 block of East Burlington Street remained closed the following week, as crews worked to clean up the site and make sure it was safe for commuters passing by.
The fire was estimated to have caused $1 million in damage and originally was projected to have set construction back 60 days.
WHAT'S HAPPENED SINCE
After the fire, workers had to tear out and rebuild the entirety of the condo tower's third and fourth floors.
That delayed the condos' expected completion date about three months, developer Kevin Digmann of Hodge Construction said. He added that although the hotel tower was not damaged during the fire, its progress also was set back 30 to 45 days.
Digmann thinks both the condos and hotel now will be open by the end of the year.
'Knock on wood, but everything's going pretty smooth right now,” he told The Gazette this month. 'There's a lot of bodies in there doing different things now, but we're optimistic we'll hit our goals and be open in December.”
Precisely when the construction wraps up has ramifications for the development team's receipt of its first TIF package payment - a $600,000 sum conditioned on completion of the project by Dec. 31, barring 'unavoidable delays.”
Wendy Ford, Iowa City's economic development coordinator, said the fire would qualify as an 'unavoidable delay,” and the city has kept in contact with the development team regarding its schedule.
'They've told us they think it's going to be close ... and wanted us to know that they think they can make it,” she said. 'We're all kind of here on the sidelines cheering them on.”
The city's development agreement stipulates that the Dec. 31 deadline can be extended a number of days equal to those lost as a result of 'unavoidable delays.”
Ford said the developers have not requested an extension. If they do, the change could be made administratively rather than by City Council vote.
The remaining TIF rebates are to be paid in annual installments beginning in 2022, continuing either 15 years or until the payments amount to $8 million in total.
These rebates, Ford said, will start at slightly under $500,000 per year and gradually increase with the site's valuation.
Once open, Digmann said, the top two floors of condos will be sold while the remaining units are to be made available for rent, with prices still to be determined.
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