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Rath administration building in Waterloo

BRANDON POLLOCK, COURIER STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The title to the former Rath Packing Co. Administration Building will soon be back in the hands of the city of Waterloo.

That’s a good thing. But now what?

The neighborhood in which it sits has been waiting for nearly a decade as once-promising reuse efforts have fizzled.

First off, the city had to regain possession. That hurdle was cleared last week when District Court Judge Brad Harris approved an order granting title to the city after a private developer failed to renovate the long-vacant structure at 1515 Sycamore St.

“While this past developer was not quite the answer in the end, we are in conversation with a few developers from out of state right now on the potential of a project for the building,” said Community Planning and Development Director Noel Anderson.

“We will continue to talk with the different parties, see what their plans are and how they can fit into that area and benefit the Rath neighborhood area and the city of Waterloo as a whole, and hopefully move forward with some agreements in the next several months,” he added.

The city acquired the 200,000-square-foot building in 1985 when Rath Packing Co., once the city’s largest employer, was liquidated after more than 90 years in business through bankruptcy proceedings. It was later added to the National Register of Historic Places but remained empty as the city was unable to attract a redevelopment project.

City officials were working on plans to demolish the building in 2008 when Mako Waterloo Corp., led by California investor Bruce DeBolt, stepped forward with a renovation plan.

The initial agreement called for the city to donate the building and surrounding property to the company for $1 and required the city to remove asbestos, which ultimately cost $257,000. Mako agreed to spend an estimated $1.5 million refurbishing the structure.

The company installed some new windows but failed to meet the July 2011 deadline to complete the work. The deadline was extended to Sept. 13, 2013, after DeBolt ran into issues with financing.

In July 2013, the developer was given another extension. City Council members voted unanimously to give Mako Waterloo Corp. until September 2014.

Finally, last summer, the city went to court seeking to regain title after DeBolt’s similar project in Sioux City filed for bankruptcy protection. Mako Waterloo also had failed to pay property taxes on the Rath building, which has become a haven for squatters.

It was the end of a potential deal that initially held so much promise.

The building still sits empty in an area where other improvements have been realized over the past several years.

The neighborhood deserves better.

After filing to get the building back, Anderson had stated:

“If we get the building back we will work to evaluate any potential redevelopment. If we are unable to find someone in an acceptable time frame to the council, we will move towards demolition. Let’s hope we can find someone to redevelop it.”

So, it will be up to the council to determine what an acceptable time frame is.

As we’ve stated before, we don’t begrudge city officials for attempting to do the right thing. And we were solidly behind the initial agreement with Mako Waterloo. It seemed the perfect solution.

Now, we would be interested in hearing what a reasonable time frame should be. The city should set a strict one.

Another decade of dilapidation is not acceptable.

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