Warden Plaza project is complex, but showing progress

A few years back, the city of Fort Dodge took title to the Warden Plaza at 908 First Ave. S., through the Abandoned Buildings section of the Iowa Code. Located along the recently constructed crosstown connector in downtown Fort Dodge, this iconic historic building has been a focal point of downtown since its construction in the 1920s.

Once known as “Iowa’s Finest Apartment Building,” which included amenities such as maid, elevator and switchboard services, deferred maintenance and lack of attention for more than a decade has caused this structure to become the city’s biggest eyesore.

Over the years, many attempts have been made to redevelop this property, but they have been unsuccessful. In 2016, the city made the commitment to step up and take title in order to facilitate redevelopment, through a public/private partnership with the Kearns Development Group Properties in Columbia, Missouri, to renovate this building into market rate housing on the upper six floors and office/commercial/public space on the first two floors. The Wahkonsa Annex (east of the Warden) would be demolished to make room for an intermodal parking hub and wellness/recreation facility.

Partners involved in the rehabilitation and redevelopment include the city of Fort Dodge, Webster County, KDG Properties LLC, the Fort Dodge Recreation Center Committee, Iowa Central Community College, Trinity Regional Medical Center/Unity Point and Friendship Haven. We believe this development will be a game changer for Fort Dodge and Webster County. This will be the most impactful project our downtown has seen in a very long time.

The historic renovation of an iconic piece of the downtown Fort Dodge landscape will serve as a critical component of the city’s larger development plan. The Plaza is centrally located and highly visible, and by providing new amenities to nearby residents, will spur additional development in the surrounding area.

During its heyday, the Warden Plaza was the nucleus of Fort Dodge. This 180,000 square foot building is the largest building in the downtown historic district. It will undergo a historic renovation to return the building to its original grandeur.

The build-out of the historic structure and construction of the new Fort Dodge REC will create an estimated 306 temporary construction jobs. Post construction, the development will create approximately 50 permanent positions,

The redevelopment of the Warden is an opportunity for our community to reenergize the downtown and breathe life into a once grand structure. Our city has seen many new opportunities over the past decade, from industrial development to new trails and recreation, with great success. We now have the opportunity to save a precious piece of history while creating new places for people to call home — an investment to enhance our downtown. The project is complex and difficult, but the challenge has been taken on by our City Council, Webster County Supervisors, and The Rec committee to not only save The Warden, but to create assets to this community that will serve it well beyond and into the future.

Matt Bemrich is the mayor of Fort Dodge.

Project Success

• US EPA grant application submitted for $500K environmental remediation assistance. Submission contains large amount of remediation and demolition design information. Composition of wall between Warden and Wahkonsa Annex is understood and will inform demolition plan.

• REC committee is working with Snyder to develop marketing and donor discussion materials. Committee is on track for May discussions.

• KDG has made progress with financial commitments and is expecting to spend $315K on design and historic process to prepare for historic tax credit parts 1.5 and 2.

• BUILD Grant revised submission for $5,874K is being developed by Snyder for July 15, 2019.

• Farm Bill signed this year, included modification for communities up to 50,000 residents to be eligible for USDA Rural Development “loan” programs.