EDITORIAL: Congratulations to all who guided Wilson Lofts project through to completion

Mar. 16—Monday will be a time to celebrate in Clinton.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony at noon that day will mark the completion of the Wilson Lofts, a decade-long, $15.6 million renovation that gave new life to a century-old building in downtown Clinton. Soon, the building will be bustling with activity as its 33 apartments become home to tenants. Two ground-floor business incubator spaces — one built for culinary use, the other for retail space — will add to the activity at the building.

It's definitely an exciting time.

But if you had asked us a couple years ago if we thought the Wilson Lofts project would materialize, we'd have to honestly say that at the time we didn't think it would.

Roadblocks toward its development became apparent not too far into plans calling for it to be developed into housing units were announced in 2013 — four years after Davenport-based Taxl Partnership #4 bought the building from former owner Bill Twyford through a tax sale.

We started out with optimism: Developers Frantz-Hobart in 2013 were showing interest in the building and planned a $7 million project to renovate it. In November 2013, the Herald reported that work to transform the century-old Fifth Avenue South landmark had actually started early that year, with Frantz-Hobart sinking more than $50,000 into the project in the way of environmental tests, title searches and other processes. The first residents were expected to move into the Wilson Building by the end of 2013.

But in that same article, it was noted that Franz-Hobart had dissolved one month earlier and that Jim Hobart, one of the partners, still wanted to purchase the building under his new company, Hobart Historic Restoration. Hobart said he wanted the building purchase and incentives resolved in the first quarter of 2014.

It wasn't to be.

In February 2014, we reported Hobart was no longer in negotiations to purchase the Wilson Building, with Hobart saying he was no longer being considered for the building purchase despite negotiating for more than a year. Taxl Holdings' co-owner Todd Gullickson said at that time that after Frantz-Hobart dissolved in November 2013, negotiations for the purchase fell through. Taxl then began entertaining purchase agreements from "multiple developers," Gullickson said. Gullickson at that time said his job was to sell to a company that can "sew up the purchase".

Then in December 2014, Brian Hollenback, president of Economic Growth Corporation, a Rock Island, Illinois, development group, met with the Clinton City Council to shed light on his company's $8.3 million restoration plan for the century-old building. The corporation was under a development contract to purchase the property from Gullickson Group. Economic Growth Corporation closed on the purchase of the building in April 2015 and rebranded the building as "Wilson Lofts." Its ground level windows were advertising 10,000 square feet of commercial space and 32 market-rate apartments that would be available for rent in 2016.

But the plan to transform the Wilson Building struggled to gain proper funding. While the City of Clinton entered an agreement for private development with Economic Growth Corporation in 2015, it amended and restated the agreement in 2016. Economic Growth did not meet its minimum improvement dates, and the two parties amended the agreement in December 2018 with a new deadline of Dec. 31, 2018. Economic Growth had the historic tax credits it needed until it missed a deadline and had to start the process all over again, Vice President Jon Davidshofer told the Clinton City Council in April 2020.

And start over it did.

In May 2021, Economic Growth Corporation and Clinton city officials announced the closing of over $13 million in financing to redevelop the Wilson Building. One month later, with all the puzzle pieces in place, Wilson Lofts broke ground for the $13 million project.

In all, the development attracted over 12 layers of complex financing to make up the capital stack. It includes federal new market tax credits, state historic tax credits, federal historic tax credits, tax increment financing from the City of Clinton, Brownfield/Grayfield tax credits, a Downtown Revitalization Grant by the Iowa Economic Development Authority through the City of Clinton, and private debt by IHMVCU, BankORION, and American Bank & Trust. Additional support includes Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District 2 funds from the Downtown Clinton Alliance and grant support from the Clinton County Development Association made possible through the Gateway Area Foundation/Grow Clinton.

Looking at that list proves how much work had to be done to make everything fall into place for a project that no doubt will help fill a housing need and have a big economic impact for years to come.

So — after years of starting and stopping, shifted ownership, revisioning and anticipation — Monday truly will be a day to celebrate.

Congratulations to all who made it happen!