The Warden Plaza: Waiting for a rebirth
Warden Plaza could be the site of apartments and stores; state agency to act on tax credits for project
The Warden Plaza has been a fixture in downtown Fort Dodge for a little bit more than a century.
During that time, it has been a hotel and an apartment building. It has been home to a radio station and some government offices. Stores once filled the ground floor level.
All the apartments are now empty and the shops are all closed. The edifice at 908 First Ave. S. has been vacant and crumbling for about a decade.
A plan to bring new life to the building has been introduced, however. In April a state agency will decide if that effort is worthy of historic preservation tax credits that are key to financing the $35 million project.
The tax credits would account for about 45 percent of the project’s financing.
“This project doesn’t make sense without historic tax credits,” Patrick Kearns, of KDG LLC in Columbia, Missouri, told the City Council on Sept. 23, 2019.
In 2016, his company, which owns the building, unveiled a plan that calls for about 100 apartments on the upper floors of the eight-story building with stores and offices on the lower levels.
The city government used the state’s abandoned buildings law to seize the building in July 2016 from Coralee LLC, of Oakland, California. In December of that year, the City Council gave it to KDG LLC amid high hopes for the project. A November 2019 completion date was once envisioned.
Rejuvenating the Warden Plaza is expected to be part of a bigger initiative that will transform the north side of First Avenue South between Ninth and 10th streets. A parking ramp called an intermodal hub and a new cultural and recreation center are the other pieces of the initiative.
But since 2016 very little has happened.
Kearns told the City Council in September that two years were lost while the National Park Service decided that the Wahkonsa Annex, a light-colored brick building immediately east of the Warden Plaza, is indeed a separate building. That action was necessary because the Warden Plaza is within the downtown historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Kearns said when construction does begin, it will take 18 months to two years to complete.
While it remains to be seen if any construction will be done at the Warden Plaza this year, there will be activity next door at the Wahkonsa Annex.
That seven-story building at the corner of First Avenue South and 10th Street was acquired by the city government at the same time it acquired the Warden Plaza. However, the city retained ownership of it with the goal of tearing it down to make way for a parking ramp with additional features called an intermodal hub. But hazardous asbestos must be safely removed from the building before demolition crews can get to work.
In September 2019, the City Council hired Impact 7G, of Clive, to prepare asbestos removal plans at a cost of $94,000.
City officials hope to hire an asbestos removal contractor in March. That company will work through the rest of this year. A schedule for the actual demolition hasn’t been publicly discussed.
In June 2019, the city received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help pay for the asbestos removal. The city government committed $100,000 in matching funds, making a total of $600,000 available for the work.
The proposed intermodal hub, which would occupy some of the real estate where the Wahkonsa Annex now stands, would span 10th Street.
As initially proposed, the facility would have parking spaces for 500 vehicles. Some of those spaces would have been reserved for residents of the new apartments to be created in the Warden Plaza. Other spaces would have been reserved for people visiting the planned cultural and recreation center and still others would have been reserved for employees working at the Carver Building, which is just north of the site.
Part of the dispatching and ticketing operations of Dodger Area Rapid Transit would be moved to the intermodal hub. The main bus stop and transfer point at Central Avenue and Ninth Street would be moved there as well.
A rack full of bicycles to rent would be placed in the intermodal hub.
The facility was estimated to cost $11.5 million. Key to the financing was a $7.63 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
In December 2018, the federal agency declined to award that grant. City officials are now working to figure out how to build a smaller version of the intermodal hub, perhaps in stages.
The proposed cultural and recreation center would be the third element in the transformation of that block of First Avenue South. It would be located near the roundabout intersection at 12th Street.
It would include swimming pools, a running track, exercise rooms and a black box theater that could be set up in different ways to accommodate various performances.
The cost of the new center has been estimated at $37 million.
It would replace the Fort Dodge Community Recreation Center at First Avenue South and 15th Street that was built in the early 1960s.
In November 2017, the City Council and the Webster County Board of Supervisors created the Webster County Wellness and Cultural Authority to finance the construction of the new facility. After it is built, the authority will lease it to a nonprofit organization that would operate it.