Benton Development Group worked with the cities of Atkins and Belle Plaine to submit applications for the most recent round of Catalyst Grants and each community received $100,000 in the most recent awards. The two $100,000 grants in the most recent round, and a previous grant award to Shellsburg, raises the Catalyst Grant total received by Benton County communities to $300,000. Catalyst grants are awarded to cities by the Iowa Economic Development Authority for the rehabilitation of unused or deteriorated buildings. The grants require cities to submit a plan for the project and to have a partnership between the city and a developer to carry out the work.
“So often the work Benton Development Group does on various projects must remain confidential because it involves the purchase or sale of real estate, or a business that wants to keep their plans under wraps until everything is final,” explains BDG Executive Director Kate Robertson. “Now that these two catalyst grants are official, we’re excited to share what the process involves and what it will mean for our communities.”
The grant for Atkins is for renovation of the property at 76 Main Street. The developers are Brian Bock and Jeff Geistkemper of Solon. The project involves renovation of the first floor for a business, and two apartments on the second floor.
“The folks in Atkins were familiar with similar projects I have done in other towns,” says Brian, “and they asked if I would be interested in tackling a project they had in mind. As soon as I saw the building, I was very confident that we could create a great asset for the citizens of Atkins and the city.
“I’ve flipped a few houses and have always liked construction and remodeling. Bringing back old buildings to life is something I especially enjoy. Some people enjoy golf in their spare time and remodeling is what I enjoy.”
The prospective tenant for the downstairs space is Textile Brewing of Dyersville, Iowa. Textile Brewing Company is a microbrewery in downtown Dyersville offering drinks, food and entertainment from a 1906 building built to be a gasoline engine factory and later used as a sewing factory.
“I’m excited to have Textile Brewing in Atkins because I believe their business will be drawing lots of people from Cedar Rapids and all of Benton County. In addition to the commercial space on the first floor, I’ll also be renovating two, 900 sf apartments on the second floor. A project like this addresses two significant problems for small, rural communities. The first problem stems from a lack of amenities like coffee shops and stores, the second is providing affordable housing.
“Kate Robertson’s contribution was essential for driving this forward”, explains Brian. “She’s been fantastic at helping me find out what the community needs, what’s already coming to the community, and she reinforced my thoughts on what a great project this could be. It’s been an exciting collaboration between the City of Atkins, the Iowa Economic Development Authority and BDG.”
Windows were ordered immediately after notice of the award was received, the roof contractor has been selected, and the plan is for completion of the project in early 2022.
The developer of the Belle Plaine project is Jason Jasnos, who owns the Classic Deli in Brooklyn. Jason plans to open a new location with a different offering in Belle Plaine, and the second-floor renovations will create up to four upstairs apartments.
“I originally planned on this project as an investment property,” explains Jason, “but it snowballed into a much larger vision because the community badly needs another dining option. So now, instead of just a rental property, we’re going to establish a new restaurant. The plan is to put a lot of focus on pizzas and pies.
“Benton Development Group was a huge part of the project and very enthusiastic about the opportunities in Benton County. This has been an incredible experience that I’m extremely excited about. I’m renovating a building and establishing a business just a stone’s throw away from where my great-great aunt and uncle had the Herring Hotel, and that makes it even more exciting.”
Stephen Beck, City Administrator for the City of Belle Plaine, shared that the City was excited about the project because it will fully utilize the space and provide another dining option. “It’s going to give a nod to the past use of the building because it was originally a cafe, and the upstairs apartments will be renovated to reflect the craftsmanship and materials used to construct the building many decades ago.
“I’m a lifelong resident of Belle Plaine who went back to college to earn a degree and I’m putting it to use in my community. I now work as the city’s administrator and I’ve never been more optimistic about the future of Belle Plaine. Our partnership with BDG, and my close working relationship with the BDG director, Kate Robertson, is a tremendous asset for us. I routinely work with Kate to bounce ideas around and to get guidance on how to keep projects moving forward.”
For Kate Robertson, BDG’s director, the three Catalyst Grants received by Benton County communities highlight how important BDG/City partnerships are. “BDG frequently responds to requests from industry about locations for major expansions or investments, and that’s an important part of what we do. But the most important work that has immediate impact happens when BDG works closely with our city governments to uncover and take advantage of the home-grown opportunities to improve our tax base, our employment opportunities, and for improving amenities in every community.”