MARION — Developer Joe Hill is balancing many projects in Marion. In a year that brought a pandemic and a derecho to Eastern Iowa, he has moved two historic houses from the future site of the Marion Public Library to a new location on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street.
Hill plans on turning the old houses into a 19-unit apartment complex called Carriage Corner.
He’s also working on another mixed-use project on Eighth Avenue that will include retail space and apartments.
On top of that, he’s in the process of reopening the Marion Maid-Rite and already owns a new restaurant in the Iowa City Pedestrian Mall.
Hill, who is a Cedar Rapids native but now lives in San Diego, Calif., recently spoke with The Gazette about his Iowa projects.
Q: How is the Eighth Avenue project in Marion coming along?
A: I own all the three homes there, about a third of the block. That’s what I was working on before the historical houses ... It involved moving three homes to an empty lot. I have a lot of empty lots in Marion, more than anyone else probably. I was going to move the homes to build a mixed-used space with retail and higher-end homes on top. It will be a really neat deal close to downtown.
I don’t have any timeline right now, because I have too much on my plate with the Carriage Corner and Maid-Rite. That’s my big deal. When I get it all done, it’s going to have all that retail and the apartments on top. It’s in the works. It’s in the process and it’s real. It’s going to happen one way or the other. I’m a dreamer. I have a vision. I see things people don’t see.
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Q: What do you hope the finished Carriage Corner project will be like? What do you hope it will bring to the city of Marion?
A: It brings multiple things to the city of Marion. No. 1, it preserves part of the history of Marion. The brick component and the history will always be there. No. 2, it improves the neighborhood and fills an empty lot. It increases property tax revenue and property values around the new development. It provides housing and creates jobs. It has a major impact on Marion going forward.
We’re finishing out the basements right now. The first house, the basement is finished. The second house still is supported by the wood structure underneath it, and they have to build the block wall to meet the basement and the house. We’re changing things a bit, we’re going to put another layer of brick on the house. The second house’s brick wasn’t in the best condition. That’s the immediate next step and then after, we can level the dirt.
The roof was also blown off the first house (in the derecho). I’m getting close to finalizing with insurance on that. The cost of replacing that roof is $100,000. The plans are ready to go, but I have to work with insurance. Once that is all buttoned up, we can start on the inside. That’s the winter project. When spring comes, we can start on the new additions. I would say by the end of next year is the goal for the project to be finished. The hardest part was moving the houses with COVID and the storm.
Q: The reopening of Marion’s Maid-Rite is another project you’re working on. What’s the timeline for that project?
A: Well, we have the design for the interior and the kitchen is all done. However, with the damage that was done from derecho, that’s all on hold. There are things that need to be done before we can put the new components in. We’re running new water lines and a sprinkler system. We have brick work on the outside we have to repair. We have to figure out how we’re going to make it (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible. That hasn’t been resolved.
Now, with restaurants, outdoor seating is a big deal. The Art Alley is in the back there. I want to capitalize on that and build a big deck that can overlook Art Alley. I have the space to do that. The kitchen would be shared with the adjacent spots. When you have the amount of space I have here, the options are unlimited with what I can do. There’s also seven apartments on top. I want those things to be really nice. They all got great views, overlooking the park with large windows. The roof has been damaged so part of the insurance claim is putting the new roof on. I would say the Maid-Rite being open by the end of next year is the goal. It’s the best-case scenario with everything that’s happened this year.
Q: You also own the Burger Hall in Iowa City. How has that business been going since opening this year?
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A: It’s going the best it can go under the conditions. We have a great location and outdoor seating. When the population comes back and we get more students, it will thrive. The whole downtown Iowa City is not good right now, but the restaurant is set up to do phenomenal things. We’re in it for the long run, and it will work out very well. It’s about trying to make it work and survive. When a third of the students are there and everything’s online, it’s a little challenging. We’re trying to market out and go to the locals as well. I’m very optimistic. This has given us time to see how we want to make this work and develop a niche.
Q: Living in San Diego now, what makes you want to pursue these opportunities in Eastern Iowa?
A: My mom had her business there and she was very happy there. This all started with me becoming more involved with my mom’s care and making sure she got the best care possible. I also looked at the area and the people I met and wanted to make a positive difference. I’m excitable. I enjoy doing these things. Sure, it’s a monetary thing, too, but I want to make a difference. I’m 65. What I’m doing now will go beyond my existence. The positive difference is my reward. That’s what I get from it. I have a lot of energy and ideas, and I don’t want to waste people’s time. I feel the weight of that and I can’t screw it up. I want people to say 40-50 years from now, “There’s the guy that made a difference.”
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