Simms turning history into housing

T-R PHOTO BY ROBERT MAHARRY Jeff Simms is currently in the process of redeveloping the building at 26 E. Main St. in Marshalltown and adding upper story housing units.

Jeff Simms saw a historic downtown building sitting idle and decided it was time to make it into something useful.

In 2020, he purchased the property at 26 E. Main St., the former home of the Gildner’s men’s clothing store, for $27,500. There was a lot of work to be done on the two-story structure which was built in 1890, but he knew it could be something more than an eyesore.

“I thought — I’ll take it on and see if we can fix it up and be part of helping Main Street look better,” Simms said.

Simms has been in the construction business for more than 26 years and has about a dozen employees among his four local businesses.

The building, which rests on a 6,840 square-foot lot, suffered some damage during the 2018 tornado and had fallen into a state of general disrepair. The roof was partially fixed afterward but still needed more work. The first steps when taking on the project included fixing the roof completely and removing debris from inside.

Next, the office walls were demolished, and paint was removed from the tin ceiling. An interesting process was used to remove the paint from the ceiling. Simms wanted to preserve and restore the tin while avoiding taking the ceiling down or creating more debris from the paint. He contracted Emory Industrial Services of Des Moines, and they used a technique called “dry ice blasting,” which makes paint and other types of gunk virtually disappear.

Simms said he is a fan of the technique and will likely use it again.

“It’s a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “It’s a neat process. It’s clean. I’d never done it before. The tin ceiling was so cool, but the paint was peeling so bad. Dry-icing was the best.”

Aside from Emory, Simms has found most of his subcontractors in Marshalltown.

“Right now we have some masons in there. This will provide quite a few jobs throughout the process,” he said. “Electricians, plumbers, flooring. It’ll help support the local economy.”

To this point, the second floor has been rebuilt, the brick has been tuckpointed and exterior walls have been rebuilt with the back wall nearing completion. Soon, work will shift to the front facade, which will be completely redone.

When construction is finished, there will be three single-family units upstairs and one or two commercial spaces on the ground floor. Two of the living units will be one-bedroom apartments, and the other a two-bedroom unit. Simms estimates the one-bedroom units will be about 900 square feet, and the two-bedroom will be about 1,100 square feet.

There will be no eligibility restrictions, either based on age or income, to rent any of the units.

Simms has not finalized what amenities will be available to residents, but he said these will be “a little higher-end apartments.”

The commercial space downstairs is an estimated 5,000 square feet, which can be split up for two businesses — or one could possibly lease the entire space.

“I’m excited about doing some upper-story housing downtown,” Simms said. “Along with some other investors in town, we’re hoping to get more upper-story housing and hopefully some entertainment, food and shopping of some sort.”

Simms estimates this project is supported by about $400,000 in grant funding, including a recently awarded $250,000 Catalyst Remediation Grant, code upgrade grant and a facade grant. During a June 13 regular meeting, the Marshalltown city council approved a resolution obligating $100,000 in council-designated local option sales tax to the project. The city’s obligation rests on funds being available from the Iowa Economic Authority’s Community Catalyst Grant Program.

The project is expected to be completed in 2023.


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