When members of the Y & J Properties LLC ownership group first visited Burlington’s Churchill building at 100 N. Fourth St. in 2017, it had seen better days.
Light fixtures sagged from the ceiling, paint chipped off the walls, and a leaky roof had caused so much water damage to the more than 100-year-old hardwood flooring that one could see clearly to the basement from the fourth floor.
“The floors were completely slanted downward. It was dangerous,” Neil Girish Desai, one of the Y & J ownership members, said Wednesday while walking on the shiny, two-toned flooring in a northwest corner, two-bedroom apartment whose windows overlook other historic downtown buildings. “Now it’s a home.”
Work has been completed on the second, third and fourth floors of the building to create 48 apartment units arranged in 16 layouts per floor, and tenants will begin moving in Jan. 1.
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The building houses 15 one-bedroom units varying in size from 674 to 1,140 square feet and in price from $850 to $1,100 per month; 30 two-bedrooms ranging from 867 to 1,685 square feet and priced from $1,160 to $1,550 per month; and three, 1,560-square-foot three-bedrooms for $1,625 per month.
Each unit has one spacious bathroom, some with double sinks, and an open floor concept with high ceilings and plenty of natural light.
The first-floor commercial space consists of four units, including the space formerly occupied by Mr. Moto’s, that will be completed as early as this spring.
“With the types of commercial tenants we’re talking to, I think it’s going to be really cool,” Desai said.
One commercial lease has already been signed for the building, and other businesses have expressed interest as well, he said.
The first floor will also be equipped with a recreation area, and tenants will have access to the fitness center that is coming to Blaul Lofts. That is located a block away at 425 Valley St., another historic building that Y & J Properties recently finished converting to house 38 apartment units and ground-floor commercial space now occupied by Lynne’s Food Cravings and Parties Unlimited.
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Y & J Properties has completed eight similar renovations of historic buildings in Davenport, including Hibernia Hall, and set its sights on Burlington after visiting other Iowa river towns.
“We’ve been specializing in historic projects, renovating historic buildings,” Desai said. “So when we saw Blaul and Churchill, we were like, ‘This would be perfect.’ You see the size, the history of the buildings. You see how you can build something that connects back to the community and at the same time turn it into something useful, which is housing.”
To assist in the cost of these projects, which most often exceeds what it would cost to raze old buildings and build new, Y & J utilizes the historic tax credit program, the qualifications for which are determined by the National Parks Service and the State Historic Preservation Office.
“You couldn’t do it without the tax credit,” said Tom Piehl, another Y & J Properties owner.
To make sure the work is done in accordance with state and federal guidelines to make the project eligible for the HTC program, the developers work closely with a historian and general contractor Green Star Construction, which has completed about 13 such projects.
The goal is to restore and retain as many of the building’s original components as possible, which is why those who enter Churchill Lofts will see large wooden columns and rafters throughout, as well as secured-in-place fire doors and two shades of wood in the flooring — the darker being the original and the lighter being new.
“In portions of it, for them to get tax credits, a percentage of old historic floor has to stay for the state, so we maintained everything that we could,” said Tina Stender, who operates Green Star Construction with her husband, Troy. “The roof leaked for a long time, though, before they bought it, and it ruined a lot of floors. So where I could, you’ll see the difference.”
Another important component to the HTC program is the 277 windows — 177 wood and 100 steel — that the Stenders have restored to last another 100 years.
But the component of the building that most reveals its history is seen in only four units.
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Silo highlights former use of the Churchill building
Inside an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant, two-bedroom unit on the fourth floor — one of two ADA-compliant units in the building, another being ADA-capable with adjustable cabinets — is a structure that at first glance looks like a small slide .
This structure at one time served as a laundry chute of sorts for pharmaceutical drugs.
“Churchill Drugs was the original owner and the ones who built this,” Tina Stender said. “They have a silo, and you’ll see it downstairs as we go, and inside of it is a track, and every floor did certain drugs, and then once those drugs were done, they would open the hatches and they would send them all the way down to the ground floor for packaging.”
The Churchill building was constructed in 1907, with the north section rebuilt in 1917 after it was destroyed by a fire.
It was one of the large factories that opened shortly after the turn of the 20th century within two blocks of the railroad tracks along Market Street.
It was occupied by Churchill Drug Co. until 1928, when Churchill merged with McKesson & Robbins. At that time, it was believed to be the largest consolidated wholesale drug firm in the US McKesson sold the property to Burlington Trading Co., which retained ownership until 1982.
It was purchased in 2004 by Kevin Bangert, who completed work on the building and opened Moto’s Public House on the ground floor. He sold the property to Y & J in 2018.
Construction of the Churchill building followed that of the neighboring Ebert building, which was built in 1900 for use as a wagon factory and blacksmith shop by John H. Ebert & Sons.
As the wagon manufacturing and blacksmith repair business declined, the business shifted to automotive springs by 1920 before Ebert & Sons expanded into janitorial supplies in the 1940s, changing its name to Ebert Supply Co. in 1950.
After Chris Ebert’s death, his estate transferred ownership of the property in 1955 to Elsie and George Ebert, who sold it to Ewinger Supply Co. in 1957.
Ewinger used the building primarily for storage until 1977, when it was sold to Burlington Trading Co. alongside the Churchill buildings.
Initial plans called for Y & J to develop the Ebert building as well as house four apartment units, but those plans are being reexamined due to rising construction costs, Desai said.
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A place for pets, art, safety and community
The grassy area between the Ebert and Churchill buildings will be transformed into a community green space, where residents and families can bring their pets and enjoy the outdoors.
“I know a lot of people say ‘no pets, don’t do pets.’ But pets are part of your family,” Desai said. “We want a location where tenants can take their pets out, hang out, play.”
Pets are also allowed at Blaul Lofts, where 23 of the 39 units have a furry occupant.
Desai said Y & J has reached out to the city to help with the management of a dog park that the city plans to establish at the corner of Fifth and Valley streets.
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“A lot of our tenants will use it. So we reached out to the city and said we’d be happy to do the maintenance, because we always have doggie bags and all that kind of stuff,” Desai said, adding that this will be a way to reciprocate for the city-built parking lot that tenants of Y & J’s buildings are able to use.
There is also plenty of space to showcase work by local artists, property manager Nate Pace said, pointing to a wall illuminated by a light fixture between the soon-to-be-complete first-floor recreation space and a commercial unit.
Pace said local artists are welcome to hang their works in Blaul, where one tenant has hung about 20 paintings, along with information on how to purchase them. That same artist is working on a mural in the fitness center of Blaul that will highlight that building’s history as a coffee roaster.
Churchill is also equipped with security cameras and will be accessible via key fobs, which can be deactivated if lost. Security amenities, Desai said, are among the most requested features among Y & J tenants in their annual feedback surveys.
Desai also owns the management company that will oversee Churchill Lofts and already manages Y & J’s other properties, which equates to about 300 units.
“One of the things about us is we don’t want to develop and run away,” Desai said. “We want to stay embedded in the community, and continue investment. For us, it’s a long-term game. In real estate especially, you have to focus on community and what you’re building, because this is something that’s going to be here forever. We want to make sure that the people who live in this building are part of the community and that the people who work here are part of the community.”
For more information about Churchill Lofts or to request a tour, visit apartments.com/churchill-lofts-burlington-ia/rgss0b0/.