Davenport council to vote on Wittenmyer campus sale

The Davenport City Council will meet Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. to vote on a proposed transfer of Annie Wittenmyer complex property for an affordable housing development.

The council will consider selling the southern portion of the 32-acre city-owned campus (in the 2800 block of Eastern Avenue) to AW Holdings (headed by Capitol Theatre owners Jim Bergman and Chris Ales) for $1.

Cottages at the Annie Wittenmyer complex (2800 Eastern Ave., Davenport) date from the late 19th century.
Cottages at the Annie Wittenmyer complex (2800 Eastern Ave., Davenport) date from the late 19th century.

Ales has substantial experience in completing historic redevelopment projects, including several in Davenport, according to a City Council memo. Their plan would be to convert many of the structures to affordable rental housing, including 52 units for seniors and 47 units for families.

None of the structures on the Wtitenmyer campus would be demolished per the plan. To accomplish this, the developer team needs to obtain conditional site control and make several applications for federal and state tax credits, property tax exemption, and other funding. The property would also need to be successfully rezoned as the current zoning does not allow housing.

The city has converted outdoor fields on the campus to the current Aquatic Center on the north side of the campus; however, many of the buildings have sat vacant or been underused over the past decades, the council memo says.

“Lease revenue has been insufficient for routine maintenance and, as a result, the campus has suffered significant deferred maintenance,” according to the council memo. Approximately five years ago, the city invited potential developers to tour the campus and offer ideas/interest regarding historic redevelopment and revitalization.

The developer and the city intend the campus to be conveyed no later than June 30, 2025 and construction/rehabilitation work to begin in spring/summer of 2025. Construction on one or both phases is anticipated to be substantially completed by Dec. 31, 2026. If funding for only one phase is initially secured, completion of the balance of the project would be conditioned upon securing the remaining funding and financing.

The Mary Fluhrer Nighswander Theater is in a former 1905 chapel on the campus.
The Mary Fluhrer Nighswander Theater is in a former 1905 chapel on the campus.

Over the coming months, the developer will work with existing tenants and the anticipated timeline. In particular, the Davenport Junior Theatre program will continue, either on-site or at a new location, the council memo says, noting city staff has begun to explore a potential partnership with the Davenport Community School District.

The developer has offered to allow the city to lease (for $1) and even potentially buy-back (for $1) the current Nighswander Theater building if more time is needed. The theater building was not originally part of the housing plans and the city will have the opportunity to acquire back the theater building.

The city may also lease up to three cottages for a maximum of 6 months (Cottages 14, 15, & 16). The intent of this lease period is to allow the city and Junior Theatre Inc. to explore long-term options for this program. For purposes of rehearsals and periodic performances, program staff and participants shall be allowed parking use of a designated portion of the existing surface parking lot fronting on Eastern Avenue adjacent the theater building per mutual agreement.

Regarding the three cottages, the city shall begin exploring other partnership opportunities regarding storage and to conduct workshops, classes, and other DJT operations. However, the cottages shall be vacated within 6 months after closing to permit their redevelopment, the city agreement says.

Junior Theatre (72 years old and the second oldest children’s theater in the country) has operated on the city-owned Annie Wittenmyer campus since the 1970s.
Junior Theatre (72 years old and the second oldest children’s theater in the country) has operated on the city-owned Annie Wittenmyer campus since the 1970s.

The projected timeline after Wednesday’s council vote (at City Hall, 226 W. 4th St.) includes:

  • Feb. 6: Plan and & Zoning Commission vote recommending rezoning

  • Feb. 21/28: City Council public hearing/1st vote on rezoning

  • March 6/13: City Council discussion/2nd vote on rezoning

  • March 20/27: City Council discussion/final vote on rezoning

  • September: Tax Credit (Low Income Housing Tax Credit) awards

  • February 2025: Deadline to secure necessary funding

  • Spring 2025: Council review/approval of plat/subdivision

  • June 2025: Anticipated closing (transfer) of campus – sign Junior Theatre lease

  • Summer/Fall 2025: Construction/Rehabilitation begins

  • December 2025: Junior Theatre vacates three cottages

  • December 2026: Construction complete – housing occupancy begins

The city Community & Economic Development department is recommending that aldermen approve the property conveyance. To see the Wednesday, Jan. 24 council packet, click HERE.

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