When it rains, it pours.
After sitting vacant nearly 18 months, the former Public Market Co-op building in downtown Waterloo has three business proposals. All three appear to be a great fit for the area, and all have some sort of established backing.
Proposals have been received from Lark Brewing Co., which would invest more than $500,000 into opening a beer brewery, tasting room and barbecue restaurant; Verve Kombucha, also investing more than $500,000 into a kombucha brewery and bistro; and Waterloo Bicycle Works, which would move in the space, add a deli and share the building with Raygun, a Des Moines-based clothing and home goods retailer.
“They all look like very good proposals ... and they all bring something unique to downtown,” said Community Planning and Development Director Noel Anderson. “It’s going to be a tough choice.”
Indeed, after seeing the building sit empty for an extended amount of time, the three proposals pose the proverbial “good problem to have.”
All three prospective ventures have given excellent pitches to the city outlining lease parameters. Any of the three would be a great addition to the area.
Lark Brewing, a partnership between Barmuda Corp.’s Darin Beck and Sean Christensen, is currently operating in the lower level of the former Beck’s Taproom on University Avenue and had been planning to move to downtown Cedar Falls until the Public Market opportunity came to light.
That proposal would relocate and expand the brewing operation while adding a full-service barbecue restaurant open seven days a week. It expects to employ 50 people.
Verve Kombucha is a partnership including SingleSpeed founder Dave Morgan, developer Brent Dahlstrom and Sidecar Coffee owner Andy Fuchtman.
That plan would open Iowa’s second kombucha brewery, along with a bistro, which would be open Tuesday through Saturday. It would employ four full-time and 16 part-time staff, and following renovations would be expected to open in about a year.
Waterloo Bicycle Works, currently located across Third Street in the Kistner Building, has proposed moving its bike repair, maintenance and sales operation into the expanded space, adding a café or deli and using the space for a variety of public events.
That would create four full-time and two part-time jobs in the bike shop and café. The business would also use the kitchen to make soaps and body products for sale on site and elsewhere.
The Public Market Co-op was a great idea — and may have fallen victim to bad timing. New development in that area could have helped the co-op immensely.
The cooperative, which focused on providing locally produced meats and produce, operated in the building beginning in September 2011. But the volunteer effort struggled financially despite not having to pay rent and folded five years later.
The use of a state CAT grant prevents the city from selling the building outright until at least 2028, or 21 years after the grant award.
Since the Public Market closed, the city has been eager to hear proposals that go with the overall improvements that have been made in the downtown area.
“The city is very interested in talking with all interested groups but wants to ensure whatever entity goes into the space interacts positively with the abutting Expo Plaza space,” Anderson said after the building was vacated.
We believe the city has done an outstanding job of making needed improvements in the downtown area over the past 15 years — both aesthetically and through developments and amenities that draw both residents and visitors.
The building was renovated as part of the city’s Riverfront Renaissance project using a state grant. It is in a great location, just waiting for the right tenant to make another successful go of it downtown.
City officials have a tough job sorting through the proposals, but three excellent candidates give us a great deal of optimism for an outstanding result for the city, the business that eventually moves in and the people who enjoy downtown Waterloo.