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Community

Public Space One buys two historic houses in Iowa City

Arts nonprofit plans to rehabilitate properties

Arts nonprofit Public Space One is purchasing two houses at 225 and 229 N. Gilbert St., Iowa City. (Public Space One photo)
Arts nonprofit Public Space One is purchasing two houses at 225 and 229 N. Gilbert St., Iowa City. (Public Space One photo)

Iowa City arts nonprofit Public Space One is purchasing two houses in Iowa City.

The organization has been operating out of the basement of the Wesley Center, 120 N. Dubuque St., in Iowa City, and the purchase will allow it to expand its footprint.

The Iowa City Council approved sale of the houses, adjacent properties at 225 and 229 N. Gilbert St., at its Tuesday meeting.

The city purchased the houses in September 2018 from Mercy Hospital as part of the UniverCity program, which seeks to refurbish homes in the city’s core neighborhoods.

City staff negotiated purchase agreements with Public Space One for $203,177 for 225 N. Gilbert and $268,178 for 229 N. Gilbert, based on the amount the city paid for the homes plus expenses incurred since.

The city will provide down payment assistance of $116,000, or $58,000 per home. According to documents, Public Space One preferred down payment assistance over direct rehabilitation assistance, and the nonprofit intends to rehabilitate both homes.

Public Space One supports artists with gallery, workshop and performance space, as well as through two major programs, the Iowa City Press Co-op and the Center for Afrofuturist Studies.

Public Space One was founded in 2002 by University of Iowa students and originally operated above the Deadwood Bar. For the past seven years, it has been in the Wesley Center.

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Having its own buildings will allow it to continue to grow, organization director John Engelbrecht said in a news release.

“It was clear that the Iowa City Press Co-op needed more room to grow with the membership solidly maintaining two dozen plus people for the last couple years, but occupying only 750 square feet,” he said. “The new home of that program will be the entire house at 225, twice as much space. This expansion will add a classroom to increase workshop sizes, and of course, being on street level means more visibility.”

Plans for the house at 229 N. Gilbert St. include a two-room gallery space, studio space and the home base for the Center for Afrofuturist Studies, with a reading and archive room.

The Center for Afrofuturist Studies brings artists of color to Iowa City to engage the public and youth in topics related to the intersections of race, technology and the diaspora.

The sale is scheduled to close Monday, with renovation work to begin immediately. Plans call for Public Space One to vacate the Wesley Center in mid-October, though performance groups such as Dreamwell Theatre and Paperback Rhino may remain at the center through their 2019-20 seasons or beyond.

In addition to the sale, the City Council voted to designate the two properties as Iowa City Historic Landmarks. The house at 229 N. Gilbert St. is a Queen Anne Victorian built in 1897, and the house at 225 N. Gilbert St. is a vernacular home with Folk Victorian detailing built in 1904. Both have relationships to second-generation immigrant families in the Northside neighborhood, according to city documents.

To help fund renovations, the nonprofit launched a capital campaign and a crowdfunding campaign at kickstarter.com/projects/publicspaceone/a-home-for-possibilities.

According to the campaign, which seeks to raise $25,000, plans include making the houses accessible with remodeled bathrooms and ramp access, as well as a new roof, electrical and plumbing updates at 225 N. Gilbert, as well as moving costs for printing equipment, among other needs.

• Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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