MARION — A new developer is relocating two houses constructed in the 1800s to be the neighbors of a carriage house, and build a 19-unit apartment complex in Marion.
Joe Hill, a Cedar Rapids native who now lives in San Diego, Calif., is moving the historic houses on Marion city-owned property to turn them into “book ends” for duplexes.
The complex will be named Carriage Corner, after the 1840s carriage house that sits at Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street in Marion. That’s where the other two houses — now at 525 11th Street and 520 12th Street — will be moved and the duplex will be built.
“I grew up with an appreciation of antiques, old things, the value, the history, where it came from. That’s why I don’t want to tear anything down,” Hill said.
Hill returns to Iowa every two to three weeks to visit his mother, Mary Pat Hill, who lives at Cottage Grove Place, a senior care facility. She used to own an antiques shop in Marion.
Hill has “lived, eaten and breathed” this project for the past nine months, he said. He began working with the Marion City Council in January to take possession of the houses, with the understanding he move them off the city-owned property.
“This helps Marion, preserves history and provides housing. It’s going to enhance the area and it’s the right thing to do,” Hill said.
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Hill recalled that when he saw the houses and began thinking of ways to preserve them, he looked at them on a map, cut them out and thought, “Why can’t you put one on one side and one on the other side and build new construction between them?”
The city began buying up the block of land where the houses now sit for long-range planning purchases, Mayor Nick AbouAssaly noted.
While most city leaders assumed the houses would be demolished, AbouAssaly said, he wanted to see if there was a better option.
“It’s worth exploring all options,” he said. “The character of any community is defined by its historic buildings and structures.
“People like the small-town character of Marion,” he continued, adding that the city is older than the state of Iowa itself. “The history of the town is important to people.”
The project is receiving $100,000 in tax increment financing, or TIF, which is used for redevelopment, infrastructure and community-improvement projects.
Hill estimates the total cost of the project to be $1.5 million. It will cost $100,000 to move each house.
Hill has been working with the Marion City Council to rezone the property on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street from a R-5 moderate density multiple family residential to PD-R planned development residential.
The council approved the first reading of the rezoning request on Sept. 19.
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When Hill took ownership of the houses, they were still full of furniture. He hired contractors in Marion to empty the houses, remove temporary walls and strip them down to the bones.
That process itself cost $50,000, he said.
When the houses are moved next spring, by Goodwin House Moving of Washington, Hill wants to host a block party to “memorialize” the event.
“Everyone likes an excuse to share hamburgers, hot dogs and music,” Hill said.
Once the houses are moved, Hill expects construction to take about a year, opening the units for occupancy in spring 2021.
Hill said the worst thing that can happen when Goodwin House Moving “reads” the structures to move them is they simply crumble.
While the outside of the houses will keep their historic look, inside will boast modern plumbing, electricity and appliances.
“This is going to be top-drawer stuff,” Hill said.
The units also will have front porches and decks to promote community, Hill said.
“When I was a kid, people would come out on their porches and say, ‘How you doing, neighbor?’” Hill said.
Hill also owns apartment complexes in San Diego under his company Seven Hills East.
The mayor hopes the Carriage Corner project will be a “catalyst” for other neighborhood improvement projects.
Hill “is making a significant investment in a neighborhood that needs some investment,” AbouAssaly said.
Former Gazette reporter Madison Arnold contributed to this article.
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