HISTORIC IOWA CITY
Photos from the Library of Congress
Our state legislature is currently considering legislation that would diminish the state historic tax credit program.
This policy change would disallow owner occupied houses and personal residences from the state historic tax credit program. In short, this change would shift funds going to historic tax credits from everyday Iowans (houses) to developers (commercial only). Iowa City has eight historic districts on the National Register of Historic Places. Tax credits are a valuable preservation tool we need to keep our historic districts in good condition.
Call to action
Write your legislators and tell them "DO NOT SUPPORT CHANGES TO THE HISTORIC TAX CREDIT. DO NOT SUPPORT HSB 670"
Recent Efforts to Save 412 N. Clinton
As of February 2020, Iowa City City Council is considering a compromise with the property owner of 412 N. Clinton St in order to designate the Civil War-era property a local landmark in recognition of its historic value to the citizens of Iowa City.
In 2017, the Historic Preservation Commission identified this as one of the few Civil War-era homes remaining in Iowa City. Because it is an important historic resource, the city Historic Preservation Commission and Friends of Historic Preservation encouraged the city council to landmark 412 N. Clinton Street to give it a zoning designation to prevent demolition. Because the property owner submitted an objection to the designation a supermajority (6 out of 7 councilors) was needed on the city council vote, which failed when Councilors Mims and Salih voted “No."
This brick Italianate-style house is significant for its architecture and its association with prominent local citizens. It was built in 1865 for Dr. Milton B. Cochran, a surgeon in the 1st Iowa Cavalry. He served on the Iowa City School Board and was the first Superintendent of the Soldiers’ Orphans Home at Davenport. The home was owned by the Sharpless family from 1867 until at least 1915 and then by the Dennis family from 1917-1965. The house appears to have been the first home of Jewish sorority Alpha Epsilon Phi. After the mid 1960s a 9-unit apartment building (410) was added to the rear of the original structure.
The current debate is whether the city would allow demolition of two adjacent properties (400 N Clinton St & 112 Davenport St.) and the construction of a multi-unit dwelling and granting extra development potential of those properties in exchange for the voluntary historic designation of 412 by the property owner. City Council discussed this at their 2-18-20 work session. You can see plans for the proposed structure here.
The owner of 412 has applied for a demolition permit. The City and the Historic Preservation Commission can only stop demolition and prevent damaging alterations if a property is listed as a local landmark or it is within a historic district. Unfortunately, 412 and 400 N. Clinton are not landmarked and are not within a historic district.
FHP Position & Advocacy
In April 2019, FHP board members met with City Manager Geoff Fruin, sharing that while we certainly aren’t happy that the 1890s corner house at 400 N Clinton will likely be demolished, we were primarily concerned that any development should include some provisions for:
-Ensuring that the rehabilitation/restoration of 412 is part of the agreement
-Ensuring that the rehabilitation/restoration of 412 is done in compliance with Secretary of Interior Standards
-Ensuring that the new use is a compatible use
-There is Design Review from city preservation staff & commission of the 412 restoration work
-There is some discussion of NRHP listing, and the positive impacts of tax credits
-There is design review of the new building. This design review may include commission input so that that the new building contributes to 412 (rather than detracts)
-Salvage by contractor or FHP's Salvage Barn is promoted for the demolished properties
On 1-9-2020, FHP addressed the Historic Preservation Commission, stating that the proposed building is too massive and is out of step with surrounding properties. Removing the 6th floor and changing the rooflines to a low pitch would bring down the scale.
Call to Action
Please write our Councilors and tell them you support a landmark designation for 412 N. Clinton, and that you want the City to continue to work with the developer to find a solution for the adjoining properties that is more in scale with the neighborhood.
Until 412 North Clinton Street is landmarked, we have few tools to protect this resource.
NTHP works to save America’s historic places.
SHSI in Iowa City has resources that can provide information about historic properties in the area.
The National Main Street Center leads a movement committed to strengthening communities through preservation-based economic development in older and historic downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts.
Historic preservation encourages cities to build on the assets they have—unleashing the enormous power and potential of older buildings to improve health, affordability, prosperity, and well-being. Ultimately, it’s the mix of old and new buildings, working together to fashion dense, walkable, and thriving streets, that helps us achieve a more prosperous, sustainable, and healthier future. By transforming the places we live to places we love, older buildings are a key and irreplaceable component of this future, and we are richer and stronger when they remain.
Donovan Rypkema is principal of PlaceEconomics, a Washington, D.C.-based real estate and economic development consulting firm. The firm specializes in services to public and non-profit sector clients who are dealing with downtown and neighborhood commercial district revitalization and the reuse of historic structures.
Iowa City Resources
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National Register of Historic Places Surveys