$13.8M project helps revive downtown Clinton

CLINTON, Iowa – Andrew Fisher recently walked through the historic Wilson Building in Clinton and marveled at the original iron handrails in the stairwells. 

“Look at these old handrails,” he said. “You see some new handrails in new houses and they wobble all the time. These old rails are still solid after 100 years.”

The solid handrails are just one of the small features and architectural marvels in the old downtown building that is finding new life.

A massive renovation of the Wilson Building, located at 210-217 Fifth Ave. South, is moving forward. When complete, it could be a “game-changer” for the community, according to the head of a Clinton business advocate organization.

The Wilson Lofts project – a $13.8 million plan to create a mixed-use building of apartments and commercial space – is expected to be done in late July, said Mr. Fisher, construction director for Economic Growth Corp. (GROWTH). The Rock Island-based non-profit organization is behind the redevelopment.

“It’s a great reuse of an old building that most people had no use for not too long ago… This is a happy ending for an old building that wasn’t going to make it unless we stepped in and made it happen,” he added.

As of early January, renovation work was about 55% complete with crews focusing on various interior jobs such as drywalling, electric and plumbing. Exterior work will resume once the weather improves, Mr. Fisher said.

For the past few months, construction crews have been busy converting the historic building into a modern facility with new townhome and loft apartments as well as commercial business space. But not all old things from the building will be tossed out. There will be numerous “neat pieces of history” that will remain to remind its new residents of the building’s heritage, Mr. Fisher said. 

For instance, work crews discovered two old safes – both empty, of course – inside former office spaces in the building. Those safes will be placed on display on the first floor when the renovation project is complete. Also, the old mail slot system in the building will remain, but will not be functioning, to give residents a small glimpse of the past.

Mr. Fisher is pleased with the renovation progress being made on the building. And he was especially happy that the old structure has not revealed any expensive surprises that could hurt the renovation budget.

“When you work on these old buildings, you always prepare yourself for a few hiccups,” he said. “But, so far, no big surprises.”

Many Clinton residents also might be surprised at just how good the old building will look, GROWTH leaders said.

The new apartments will have in-unit washers and dryers, dishwashers, stoves and refrigerators. They will be cable- and internet-ready, and the building will be wheelchair accessible.

“The people of Clinton have been amazing to work with,” said Brian Hollenback, GROWTH’s president and CEO. “They understand this is a (great) investment to help the community.” 

Wilson Lofts will have 33 residential rental units offering townhome apartments and 504-square-foot lofts as well as one- and two-bedroom apartments. Rents will range from $590 to $1,115, according to the Wilson Lofts website.

To date, there are already 40 people on the waiting list, Mr. Hollenback added.

In addition to the living space, the ground floor will offer commercial spaces for entrepreneurs wanting to start a business. That commercial space will include:

  • Makers on 5th: This business incubator will provide six spaces for people who want to refine and grow their businesses.
  • Clinton Culinary: This space will offer four spaces for start-up culinary entrepreneurs to help them start new restaurants.

“This is going to be a game-changer for Clinton,” said Andy Sokolovich, interim president of the Clinton Regional Development Corporation (CRDC). “We have been trying to get this done for a very long time.”

Mr. Sokolovich added that the redevelopment will help attract more people to the downtown district with its apartments and by helping launch new businesses. “We are very excited to bring more people to downtown Clinton,” he added.

The Wilson Building was built between 1912-1914 and today is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. At one time, the building was home to a J.C. Penney store and Walgreens. Its upper floors once housed business offices. A groundbreaking on converting the building into Wilson Lofts was held June 16, 2021.

“Completion of this project will address local housing market needs, respond to the community’s growing and dynamic downtown residential population, and is consistent with the community’s desire for unique urban living opportunities that are close to many amenities,” according to Wilson Lofts’ website.

For more information and availability, visit www.wilson-lofts.com

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