Backers: Grocery store would anchor ‘new neighborhood’

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May 6, 2015 - 12:00 AM

Nearly lost amid the hubbub of Tuesday’s announcement that G&W Foods hopes to build a new grocery store in downtown Iola was the other portion of the ambitious project — new housing complexes.
As reported previously in the Register — and elsewhere in today’s newspaper — the bigger dream is to have the grocery store be the centerpiece of a complete neighborhood redevelopment at the old Allen County Hospital site.
Thrive Allen County Executive Director David Toland and former mayor John McRae, representing Iola Industries, spoke about the accompanying housing development, in the form of apartment complexes.
If county commissioners give their blessing to the grocery store proposal, Iola Industries will seek financing to build an eight-unit apartment complex, possibly on the northernmost edge of the 2-acre property.
“That’s the first thing to happen, to get it off the ground,” McRae said.
Such a complex is expected to cost about $800,000.
McRae envisions financing through one of two means.
“We could either utilize assets we already have, or we could go to the bank and finance it,” he said. “Our role in this is to see that the project gets started. Hopefully that becomes a catalyst for additional housing units, and construct a new neighborhood.”
The units would come in varying size, Toland said: two one-bedroom units, four with two bedrooms and two with three bedrooms.
“What we’re trying to do is demonstrate there is a demand and the market is there for this type of housing product for this particular location,” Toland added. “Once that’s done, I think you’ll see the rest of this take off.”
Ideally, a developer would see the success of an Iola Industries project, and step in to build other nearby complexes, or to even take over the Iola Industries one.
“We have no overwhelming desire to be landlords,” he said. “We’re not doing it for an investment. We’re doing it for the community. Most of the board feels like it needs to be done.”

COINCIDENTALLY, the one remnant of the old hospital site that would be kept — the Medical Arts Building — was an Iola Industries project, McRae noted.
“What this  project shows, that while Iola Industries has always stayed true to its core mission — supporting existing industries and hoping to attract new — it goes where there’s need,” Toland said. “In the case of the medical arts building, somebody needed to step up. Iola Industries did that.”
Toland and McRae also pointed to the new housing in north Iola, part of the Cedarbrook Addition. That land, too, was acquired by the city with the assistance of Iola Industries.
 But there would be a distinct difference between the apartment complexes and many of the homes in the Cedarbrook Addition — the rent.
While income restrictions are in place for most of the Cedarbrook homes, the Iola Industries apartment complex would base rent on the open market.
That’s because the Cedarbrook developers used state tax abatements as a tool to afford construction, and thus had to base their rent on levels prescribed by the state. There will no such state assistance — and no such limitations — with the Iola Industries project, McRae and Toland said.
“I’m not sure I can identify what the profile (for potential renters) would be,” Toland said. “There are regular folks working in a variety of jobs in the community who want to be here and can pay market-based rent. That’s who we’re trying to cater to.”
For proof, Toland pointed to the Parkford Apartment Complex in north Iola, built in 2000 using state tax credits and required to set aside some apartments for low- to moderate-income residents.
Parkford officials met the original 15-year agreement with the state, and was given an option to continue to continue to receive tax credits for meeting the low-income rent requirements.
“They chose to opt out and open (rentals) to anybody,” Toland said. “That demonstrates the strength of the market.”
McRae agreed.
“Housing has been an issue as long as I’ve been around here,” McRae said. “It’s an issue for our industries.”
Both McRae and Toland said Iola Industries likely would seek property tax abatements through the city’s revitalization program, a program open to any developer in Iola’s city limits.

TOLAND stressed the G&W/Iola Industries/Thrive proposals are inter-twined for “mixed-use development” —literally creating a new neighborhood.
“It’s important to consider the housing in the context of the anchor,” Toland said. “G&W is going to be the anchor if this goes forward. They are excited about the idea of having 32 to 40 new households across the street from their new store.
“We think also, that people are going to be excited to be across the street from this nice, new grocery store. This truly is going to be a new neighborhood in the heart of Iola. We think it’s going to be a very attractive place for people to live.”
“From Iola Industries’ perspective, this is a good thing for the community, for our industries,” McRae added. “Are we nervous about it? Yeah, a little bit. But we see the potential to do a lot of good.”

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