The National Park Service is giving entrepreneurs the opportunity to open private businesses on public land with three historical houses up for lease at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in West Branch.
The service has asked for requests for expression of interest from businesses for “adaptive uses” of the three houses.
The Staples House is estimated at 2,100 square feet, the Wright House at 1,440 square feet and the Hayhurst House at 1,700 square feet, and all are located within the park’s historic district.
Those interested in the properties can schedule a visit between March 1 and July 16. REIs, which can be downloaded at https://bit.ly/3u1UIau, are due by July 30.
All three houses were built in the 1870s, and Superintendent Peter Swisher said they has been used as short-term housing for employees, along with three other houses. The service decided to put these houses up for lease because the need for employee housing has decreased over the years.
Swisher said it’s better for houses as old as these to keep them active, rather than letting them sit dormant for long amounts of time.
“For us, it was really an evaluation of what we need in our inventory for potential use by employees versus what we think we have potentially in surplus,” Swisher said.
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Potential businesses moving into the houses must fit with the atmosphere of the historical site, Swisher said. Businesses such as offices or inns don’t detract from the area as, for example, a nightclub would.
The site commemorates former President Herbert Hoover’s birthplace in West Branch. Swisher said they’d never let a business venture get in the way of the park telling “the Hoover story.”
Once people show interest in the properties, the National Park Service will conduct a market analysis to determine the appropriate rental income for houses of these sizes.
Swisher estimated the Staples House rental price at around $1,100 a month, and the two smaller houses at around $700 to $800 a month.
The next step after REIs come in is for the National Park Service to put out a public notice describing the type of proposal it requires, then allow prospective businesses to make bids and enter a leasing agreement.
As the site lies adjacent to downtown West Branch, Swisher said he hopes opening businesses in the area will bring visitors to both the site and the town. The goal here isn’t competition, he said, but collaboration.
“We’re hoping that the park and businesses downtown can succeed through this,” Swisher said. “It’s a ‘all boats rise at the same level’ type thing.”
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