1920s department store to see new life in Burlington

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A vacant, 1920s department store is poised for new life in downtown Burlington, Iowa, with the help of a $75,000 grant.

Built in 1928, the building at 500 Jefferson Street was a J.C. Penney department store until the late 1970s, when the store moved into the mall. Since then, the building has sat empty and become badly deteriorated.

"The building on the exterior is pretty plain, but when you walk in, the space is really, really great," said Martin Salino-Hugg, a partner in Steepletown Development who has worked in architectural design.

Three local developers who make up Steepletown Development have received a $75,000 grant for the building's remodel thanks to Downtown Partners. Downtown Partners is Burlington's Main Street program, and one of 14 communities to win a grant through the Main Street Iowa Challenge Grant program.

"This is a huge deal. This building has been vacant since the late 1970s; it sits right in the heart of our downtown district. It's been an eyesore for a long time, so we're very excited to see some progress finally being made," said Downtown Partners executive director Steve Frevert.

Although the building is in need of a lot of work, developer Becky Anderson said she can only see potential in the space.

"I've been in a lot of buildings this bad, and that's just how I look at it -- potential," said Anderson.

The trio imagines that the large, open sales floors, balconies, and pressed tin ceilings would make great historic touches to a new restaurant space.

"We can see where it could work really well as a bar up here that could overlook some dining down below," Salino-Hugg said.

And Frevert hopes the building will become home to Burlington's first brew pub.

"We are actually, as far as I can tell, the largest community, in terms of population, in the state that doesn't already have a brew pub. So, I think we're overdue. I would love to see something like that happen here," said Frevert.

It will likely take close to $600,000 to fully redevelop the building and hopefully attract the right operator.

Work on the building could begin as soon as March.