Ignite Denison building concept

A rendering of the facade of the Denison Community Room after “Ignite Denison” renovations includes bright red doors that reflect the building’s original use as a fire hall.

The Denison City Council earlier this month agreed to sell the Community Room located just south of city hall to the Chamber & Development Council of Crawford County (CDC).

The CDC plans to transform the building, which was built in 1951 as the Denison fire station, into space for a business incubator/accelerator program, a new home for the Iowa Workforce Development satellite office in Denison and new offices for the CDC, in a project the CDC is calling "Ignite Denison."

The CDC is currently housed in the lower level of the Donna Reed Center and the Workforce Development satellite office is at the Western Iowa Tech Community College building.

In the past the Community Room, which needs to be renovated, had been rented out but has been largely unused since October 2014. Some Denison Parks & Rec yoga and fitness classes were scheduled for the space this fall.

Following are details of the plan.

  • The in-kind value of the property was conservatively estimated at $75,000 in February 2018.
  • The CDC will have up to 18 months to complete the renovation of the Community Room.
  • The city will designate $50,000 in Tax Increment Finance funding toward the redevelopment of the space.
  • The CDC will pay a minimum of $5,000 in property taxes annually for 10 years to pay back the TIF funding. After 10 years the property would generate new tax revenue for the city and other taxing entities.
  • The TIF funding that is being offered by the city won’t be available until July.
  • The city has right of first refusal should the CDC sell the property.

CDC Executive Director Evan Blakley commented at the council’s November 19 meeting that it would be the first time in history that building has generated tax revenue.

Blakley submitted the renovation plan to the November 19 council meeting.

Asked about the details of the business incubator/accelerator program, Blakley said it would be for a start-up business or business moving to the community or perhaps a business operating out of the home that is ready to take its plan to the next level.

He said the CDC Board would decide, probably once a year, on the applications submitted for use of the incubator/accelerator space.

He said the incubator space could be shared, adding if all a business needs is two desks, the space could probably house four businesses of that size.

Businesses selected for the incubator/accelerator program could use the space rent-free for six months.

“There will be some requirements within the lease,” Blakley said. “We don’t want it to be a storage space that isn’t used. We want them to be dedicated to their business so there will be a certain amount of hours that they’ll need to be in their space, utilizing it and conducting business.”

After six months, the business would pay a small amount of rent.

After a year and one-half from the business’s initial time of entering into the program, the CDC wants it to pay market-rate rent.

“And then we’ll continue to increase their rent until they do find a new place to go, which we will help them with, because we’re not in this to compete with local landlords,” Blakley said. “This is actually to create new businesses that can occupy these vacant spaces that we have.”

The city council also approved a resolution to enter into the development agreement with the CDC and set a public hearing for 5 p.m. on December 3 to amend the urban renewal plan for the development agreement.

The action by the city council followed public hearings on the development agreement and the sale of the building.

No objections were raised at the public hearings, but the city had received a letter of objection, dated November 19, from Rich and Deb Knowles, who asked that it and two previous letters sent to the council be read during the public hearing. The letters were not read but Councilman Nathan Mahrt, who was serving as mayor pro tem, acknowledged their receipt.

One of the previous letters, dated October 15 and written by Deb Knowles, suggested that the city could by itself or in cooperation with other entities use the building as a wellness center that would benefit the residents of the area.

The Knowlses, in their November 19 letter, asked the city council to not take action on the development agreement and the sale of the Community Room until the newly elected mayor and council members are seated and have had the opportunity to consider all other options and uses for the Community Room.

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