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Decision Coming Soon for Future of Tama Complex in Downtown Burlington

Nov 15, 2018

The owner of the Tama Complex in downtown Burlington told the city council this week that he is close to reaching a decision on what to do with the property that was destroyed by a fire in August.

Doug Wells said he is exploring two options:

  • 1) Tearing down the Tama Building that is still standing and removing all of the debris so the entire lot can be developed in the future.
  • 2) Stabilize the Tama Building to allow for future rehabilitation while removing the remaining debris.

Wells said he favors the second option, despite the condition of the building.

“There are 16 apartments in that portion,” Wells told aldermen. “The framing is pretty much intact, the roof essentially is gone, the interior needs to be completely removed, [and] the hardwood floor was ruined.”

Wells said his decision will be based on cost estimates for demolition, building stabilization, etc. And he said the decision could come in the next few days, while also echoing his commitment to cleaning up the site.

“I need to look at both alternatives,” said Wells. “It appears saving it would cost more.”

One of the concerns for residents and downtown business owners is that there are still barricades blocking access to sidewalks and streets near the lot.

Wells said he understands those concerns.

“I do understand the tremendous stress of the mess and the unsightliness and closing the street off and holiday season,” said Wells. “It’s a bad deal and I am very sorry about that.”

Wells said if the decision is made to raze the entire lot, the streets, sidewalks and parking spaces could reopen within two weeks. He said if he tries to save the building, it could be December 19 before people can safely drive or walk past the complex.

Wells told aldermen he has secured a $930,000 line of credit from a local lender in anticipation of the work getting underway soon.

“We are going to clean the mess up,” said Wells.

The city council expressed a willingness to work with Wells.

“I’m thrilled you are interested in continuing with the project,” said Alderman Jon Billups. “The last thing I want to see is an empty hole there.”

Alderman Matthew Rinker said he’s glad to hear that Wells might try to save the remaining building.

“I think it’s really short-sighted to say that it just makes sense to tear it down so we can get the lot cleared for the next two weeks, so that way the cost is diminished to the people downtown and this year’s Christmas season,” Rinker said. “But then I think about the value that building will provide to downtown shopping if you’re able to be successful and put an additional 45 units on that lot. I think the long-term value to those businesses would be far greater.”

Rinker also expressed some frustration with Wells for missing a city council meeting he was supposed to attend.

“There are two things that I have a lot of concerns with with this project,” said Rinker. “The first one is communication, making sure you are communicating with people that have an interest in the downtown, have businesses in the downtown. It’s extremely important that they understand what progress and steps are being taken to ensure that costs to them is minimalized. The other part is actually reducing those costs. Making sure people are cleaning up and that the project is moving forward in a way that will allow it to be successful.”

Wells said he would inform the city as soon as he decided what he was going to do with the lot. He also pledged to attend the Dec. 10 city council workshop to provide an update for aldermen and anyone else in attendance.

Investigators never determined a cause of the fire. More than 50 firefighters from six southeast Iowa departments responded to the fire.