City Administrator Cole O’Donnell said Keokuk will ramp up discussions about the future of City Hall as soon as it receives the financial settlement from its insurance provider following last week's fire. He is confident the discussions will not include two particular properties: the former Roquette America office building and the entertainment barge.
Roquette America gifted the building to the city in 2016 after attempting to sell it. The property at the corner of 14th and Exchange Streets includes office space and laboratories.
The city received a $1 million grant from the federal Economic Development Administration to renovate the building. The goal is for it to eventually house multiple business start-ups.
“Because we have the grant from the EDA, we cannot put public offices in there,” said O’Donnell. “It has to be something that is business/entrepreneurial in that respect. Otherwise, we either don’t get the grant or we would have to repay that grant, so that kind of takes it off the table as well.”
Keokuk will invest about $1.4 million into the business incubator to serve as the local match for the federal grant. It is moving ahead with the process to borrow that money.
The city acquired the barge for $1 a couple years ago and spent several hundred thousand dollars to float it down the Mississippi River to its current location near the Southside Boat Club.
The barge previously served as the entrance to a riverboat casino in Davenport. It’s about half the size of a football field and can hold a couple hundred passengers.
“The barge would be absolutely unique,” said O’Donnell. “It is a very large facility that would more than accommodate what we need. The problem is as we have had more frequent floods. Every time that there would be a flood where you are shutting down parks and everything else down there, you would be shutting down City Hall.”
The city is preparing to spend up to $300,000 to connect utilities such as electric, water, and sewer to the barge and to install permanent entrance ramps in the hopes of finding a developer for the property.
O’Donnell said while those options are off the table, many others will be discussed---as soon as the city finds out how much it will receive in an insurance settlement.
“That will tell us what we have available in order to do something,” said O’Donnell. “Whether it be to try to do something on the [current] site, take an existing building and remodel it, or to find a site and build a new building---it all depends on what the insurance company comes back with.”
O’Donnell does not know when the city will receive word about its insurance settlement. He said Mayor Tom Richardson, a retired insurance agent, is handling that process for the city.
City staff is currently working out of the third floor of Pilot Grove Savings Bank, which is located at the corner of 6th and Main Streets. Phone lines are up and running with email and computer access expected soon.
O’Donnell said the bank is willing to work with the city on a short-term lease, based on the amount of the insurance settlement for temporary office space. City council meetings will continue to be held in a former elementary school gymnasium, where the Keokuk School Board regularly meets.
The February 5 fire swept through much of the first floor of the two-story brick City Hall building at 415 Blondeau Street. Portions of the second floor and the basement sustained water and/or smoke damage. The fire department said the following day the fire started in the rear of the building, but a cause has yet to be determined.