WATERLOO — A block of buildings on downtown Waterloo’s west side is one of the oldest slices of historic downtown.
It’s also home to the newest place to get a slice of pizza.
The four buildings that housed Walden Photo have been renovated with their historic features revived.
“These are some of the oldest buildings left in Waterloo,” said David Deeds, controller with JSA Development, the company that headed the projects.
One of the four commercial spaces, 225 W. Fourth St., will be home to Basal Pizza. The pizzeria offered free sample slices to people attending the opening reception of the $2.5 million project Thursday.
The entire project features four commercial spaces and six loft-style apartments. Three of the apartments have tenants planning to move in, and two of the four commercial spaces are occupied. The commercial space at 227 W. Fourth St. is occupied by 4u Clothing.
The oldest building, 229 W. Fourth St., was built in 1882. The newest was built in 1904. Developers said renovating the buildings and finding new uses for them preserves the appeal of downtown.
“I have fun doing these projects because Waterloo needs them,” said Jim Walsh, president and founder of JSA Development.
Walsh said downtown Waterloo has lost about a third of its buildings. The renovations, which include foundation work, new ventilation systems and roofs, will add to their already long lives.
“These buildings would have been knocked down if we did not do this,” Walsh said. “They’re good for another 150 years.”
Tavis Hall, executive director of Main Street Waterloo, said unique spaces like the Walden Block are a draw and provide a connection to the past.
“Historic preservation is about exactly that,” Hall said. “For people ... there’s something a little bit deeper about the stores and shops they’re in.”
For decades, the Walden block housed Walden photo downtown until the business left in 2007. The three-generation business closed its other locations in 2008. Members of the family were on hand Thursday.
After being vacant for almost a decade, the spaces already have life.
“It’s going to be a great pizza place,” said Chuck Hoecker, adding his opinion might be biased — his son, Matt Hoecker, is the head chef at Basal Pizza.
“The whole project in general looks nice,” Hoecker said. “I really think it will bring more people downtown.”
Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo, toured the buildings.
“This is incredible,” Danielson said.
the project is a good example of private, state and local cooperation, he added. Deeds and Walsh also thanked the state its historic tax credit program and the city for its support for the project.
“Sometimes you have to drag them in, but they’re a partner too,” Walsh said.
Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart said there may be times the city will want to drag JSA into some projects. Hart noted the project is good for the vibrancy of downtown and economic development but added JSA adds more than economic development to the city.
“You have to have a vision to be able to see something great in something some people just think is old,” Hart said. “It’s really, really a great talent and it speaks to Mr. Walsh as well.”
Basal Pizza officially opens May 17.