Why Does a City Invest in Restoring an Historic Property?

October 29, 2018
Commercial Restoration

Hotel Maytag located in Newton, Iowa offers great reasons when it comes to investing in restoration.

“The City realized the building was going to go further downhill unless something was done. We stepped in, bought the building and began to search for a developer.”

So says Craig Armstrong, economic development specialist for the City of Newton, Iowa, about the distinctive and once-grand Hotel Maytag.

What factors make a city decide to invest in a project in this way? For Newton, it was the combination of a prime location, an extraordinary building and a deep connection to community history.

“It’s literally an iconic and irreplaceable structure in Newton,” said Armstrong. “Some of the older citizens remember attending weddings and other events in the second-floor ballroom, which was incredibly beautiful. And it’s a reminder of Maytag’s huge importance in this community: at one time more than 20% of Newton residents were employed by the company. Replacing it with a modern building wouldn’t have the connection to our history.”

The Hotel Maytag, designed by Chicago architect Henry Raeder, was built by Frederick Louis Maytag in 1926 to complement his namesake Maytag Corporation. A true industry titan, Fred L. Maytag built his impressive multi-use building to a level of quality appropriate to conduct the business of the flourishing appliance company, which at that time produced one of every 5 washing machines sold in the U.S. and was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The 5-story building was both luxurious and innovative for its time: the first hotel west of the Mississippi to feature central air conditioning, the first to install a radio in every room, and ice-free sidewalks courtesy of steam pipes installed underground.

Through the years, the hotel began to go downhill as its ownership turned over multiple times. It became an address for shabby apartments over a few tired street-level storefronts. The Capitol Theatre, originally showing silent films and vaudeville performances, still operated as a movie theatre but the space had become much more utilitarian and less decorative. The entire structure was clearly dilapidated, a dramatic change from its former grandeur and a problem for the city, as it occupied a key downtown location at the northeast corner of the courthouse square.

The City realized that the Hotel Maytag was not just too important to lose, but also that it had the potential to once again become a prominent and celebrated focal point for downtown Newton. The City decided to purchase the building.

“The City really understood what it had in this building,” said RDG architect Andy Lorentzen. “You couldn’t overstate how important the City’s investment in this project is. There’s a lot that had to happen to make this thing go, and all the city’s leaders and staff were galvanized by this project. It’s pretty remarkable.”

Finding a developer with the experience and creativity to put the financing together and complete a project of such complexity and quality was no easy task. Lorentzen said, “For this kind of project, a developer not only needs the understanding and ability to connect the dots among available tax credit programs and other layers of complexity but also needs the courage and leadership to advocate for the project and gain the necessary support from a wide variety of players.”

“When the Hatch Development Group approached us, they knew what was needed,” said Armstrong. “This was not their first rodeo. They had the expertise and the track record. We had confidence in them as the developers. And, we think the world of the RDG professionals working with us on the designs. They know historic restoration.”

The City of Newton’s partnership with Hatch Development Group, RDG Planning & Design, Earth Services and Abatement, and Estes Construction will transform the Hotel Maytag building into 45 new workforce and market-rate apartments, a rehabilitated Capitol Theatre, an upscale restaurant, and new retail shops.

“People will literally be blown away,” according to Armstrong, when the Capitol Theatre (the first phase of the project) reopens to the public on November 9, 2018. “Citizens are extremely supportive and excited – they see it as a great investment on the city’s part.”

The full project is slated for completion in 2019. Says Armstrong, “It’s trite to say it takes a village, but it really does in this case. The key players have to be pulling on the same rope at the same time. Everybody has done that with this project.”

Learn more about the Hotel Maytag project.

Written by Mary Jones, Studio Coordinator