DES MOINES — With an eye toward shrinking state government — or at least its footprint — the Iowa House approved funds for razing and rehabilitating vacant state buildings the state is paying millions to maintain.
“We are spending in the neighborhood of $2 million a year maintaining vacant spaces,” Rep. Gary Mohr, R-Bettendorf, told colleagues Tuesday. For example, the state spends $65,000 for upkeep at the former penitentiary at Fort Madison.
The state has more than 50 buildings at 11 corrections, natural resources and human services facilities scattered across the state, some empty and unused for 10 years, Mohr said.
The idea is to turn that property over to the private sector that will be paying taxes and employing Iowans, Mohr said during comments on House File 765, the annual infrastructure appropriations bill. It was approved 100-0.
The $129.9 million budget includes $2 million for the Iowa Economic Development Authority to work with parties interested in buying vacant buildings and $2 million to demolish those that are of no further use.
“Having some dollars for rehab or demolition is important because it will save us a lot more money in the long run,” said Rep. Dennis Cohoon, D-Burlington, who worked with Mohr on the budget.
Although there are not interested parties for every building, in some cases there are multiple parties that would like to take over those facilities.
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In Toledo, for example, Rep. Dean Fisher, R-Montour, said the city and a private developer are interested in the 27-acre Iowa Juvenile Home campus that closed five years ago.
The city would like the state to demolish the buildings so the land could be developed for single-family housing. The state, he said, has offered the campus as is.
“We desperately need workforce housing,” Fisher said.
The demand is driven, in part, but the growing number of jobs at Tama-based Iowa Premium, a meatpacking plant recently purchased by National Beef. Employees there travel from as far away as Waterloo and Cedar Rapids, both about 50 miles away.
A private developer, Hobart Historic Preservation, is interested in using the campus for a memory care facility and assisted living, Fisher said.
The first step, Mohr said, is for the Department of Administrative Services to complete an inventory of vacant facilities.
Then the Economic Development Authority can go to work on getting as many of those buildings on property tax rolls as possible.
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