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Tama Building owner outlines plans to rebuild

BURLINGTON, Iowa-- More than three months after a fire ravaged the historic Tama Building in downtown Burlington, the owner is now sharing his plans for the building.

Owner Doug Wells told the Burlington city council Tuesday, November 13, he plans to rebuild one way or another on the corner of Jefferson Street and N 3rd Street. But he says he doesn't know if he'll try to salvage some of the building.

"Rightfully so the structural engineers are nervous that (the southeast) corner could fall down," Wells says.

The facade of the building is still standing but is unstable. Wells says he could try to reinforce it, tear down the rest of the building and rebuild with the original walls.

His other plan would demolish the building and start from scratch.

"I think it's a very historic, substantial building in downtown Burlington. It seems a shame to lose it," he says.

But Wells says reinforcing the original walls would take more time, keeping the streets blocked off.

Several local business owners told Wells Tuesday night that the street closures are hurting their businesses and stopping people from coming downtown.

"Businesses around there, in terms of being able to get back and operational, there's a lot of value to getting the street open," City Manager Jim Ferneau says.

Wells says the streets should reopen by December 19, regardless of which plan he pursues. He says he'll get back the subcontractor bids for the projects by the end of the week and will pick his path based on the costs.

"I think his timeline is fairly aggressive," Ferneau says. "I hope that he can hit that but I can see him not getting that open."

Wells says he lost nearly $13 million worth of construction in the August fire. The Tama Building was three weeks away from opening when it caught fire.

"It's a project we started, and I'm not inclined to want to walk away from it," he says. "I think it's an important piece in downtown. And I think the building's important but also having those functions there would help the economy."

Wells says he hopes to be able to open new apartments and retail space on the site by April 2020.

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