The former EQ School of Hair Design building at 530 W. Broadway will soon have a new lease on life with a combination of commercial and residential use under a $5.3 million redevelopment plan.

The building, now vacant and dark, is the entrance to downtown Council Bluffs on one of the city’s most-traveled streets.

The redevelopment of the former EQ building will be the first phase of what is planned as a three-phase development for the 500 block of West Broadway.

The 712 Initiative, a nonprofit redevelopment organization for Council Bluffs, plans to start renovating the structure early next year, reopening it as commercial and residential space in early 2022.

“The infamous quote, ‘We do things not because they are easy but because they are hard,’ fits our organization — and this project in particular — to a tee,” said Sheryl Garst, CEO of The 712 Initiative. “This property has remained underutilized for decades and has many development and financing challenges.”

Built in the late 1800s, the building was originally four buildings with shared walls, very common for downtown buildings at the time, Garst said. Over the years, businesses in the building expanded to more than one building, most notably the Iowa Clothes Store, and eventually it became one building.

The historic character of the building will be maintained in the redevelopment, returning large storefront windows to the street level, encouraging walkability and window shopping.

When completed by early 2022, the renovated building will feature 10 studio apartments ranging in size from 500 to 620 square feet; one one-bedroom apartment of 700 square feet; and four two-bedroom apartments ranging in size from 720 to 770 square feet. Garst said that some of the apartments would be affordable, while the remainder would be at market rate.

In addition, the project would include four workspace areas on the ground floor ranging in size from 613 square feet to 1,975 square feet. These could be utilized artists and craftsmen, with a work and display area at the front and living space in the rear, or businesses such as small insurance agencies or other businesses that are now being operated out of the owners’ homes.

“We at the 712 are working on holistic system development challenges for this property and many around it with the city of Council Bluffs, the Iowa West Foundation and the state of Iowa,” Garst said. “They understood and shared our vision for this site for us to start the fundraising process now in 2020 to align with state and private grant cycles.”

Garst said she was “elated” to learn that the Iowa Department of Economic Development had approved a $750,000 Brownfield Grant for the development project. She said the 712 Initiative is now confident it will complete the fundraising for the project this year in time to begin construction in early 2021, with an expected 12 to 14 month buildout.

“This is a transformative project downtown Council Bluffs,” she said. “By improving the property, the tax base will increase while bringing desired residential opportunities to the downtown. Renovating the building also maintains the character and integrity of Council Bluffs’ downtown that creates a sense of place where businesses and resident want to work, live and play — furthering the city’s downtown and comprehensive plans.

Last Tuesday, the Planning Commission recommended approval of the Fifth and West Broadway Urban Revitalization Area. Creation of these areas, which must be approved by the City Council, are intended to provide a tool to stimulate private investment by reducing the tax increase that would normally result from making improvements to real estate property. Use of this tool is considered on a project by project basis, with demonstrated need, by the city.

The EQ building would be the first renovation project for the area. Once completed, the property is expected to see a 313% increase in valuation.

The 712 Initiative will be following that with improvements, slated for 2022, to 12 Scott St., the former Council Bluffs Community School District’s administrative headquarters, and new construction at 510 W. Broadway — now a parking lot – bringing 116 new residential units to downtown.

Improvements to 12 Scott Street will add 23 market rate units, including 16 one-bedroom apartments and seven two-bedroom apartments. The renovation would also include a 725 square foot roof deck. The project has a projected cost of $5 million.

The new construction proposed for 510 W. Broadway — the third and final phase of the redevelopment — would be a five-story structure with covered parking at ground level and 78 apartment units as well as a community room on the floors above. With a projected cost of $16.9 million, the building would feature three studio apartments, 52 one-bedroom units and 23 two-bedroom apartments.

The 712 Initiative anticipates the three-phase project will be completed in seven years.

Once change in this area begins, additional private investments in adjacent properties are expected to add an additional 140 to 200 residential units.

“We envision this to be a catalyst project for the entrance into our downtown and the Bayliss Park district,” Garst said. “The public is excited as well as our local and state partners.”

The completed project brings new housing within walking distance of Bayliss Park, the Hoff Family Arts and Culture Center, the 100 Block, the Haymarket District, the YMCA, restaurants, employment, both city and county government centers and year-round events, she noted.

“We’ve partnered with one of the best architects in the business, Alley Poyner Machietto that knows how to make these spaces special,” Garst said. “This block is the missing piece to our downtown and our previous development work on the 100 Block and South Main districts.”

The 712 Initiative works to improve the economic vitality in redevelopment areas through investments in the built environment, activating public spaces and delivering programs that increase social engagement and healthy lifestyles. All of those elements come together in the revitalization of the 500 block, Garst said.

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