Good news for downtown Burlington. Iowa. Some state agencies have given approval for the demolition of the fire-ravaged Historic Tama Complex, but how to bring down the building safely remains a concern. This article in The Hawk Eye gives the details so I won’t repeat those here.
The bad news for downtown merchants, however, is that the fencing around the area has to expand, limiting parking on Jefferson and Third again. (Third Street had re-opened in mid-December but part of Jefferson was still blocked.) I guess the best way to view it is that there has to be pain in order to get some gain. Let’s just hope the building can be brought down safely.
In the meantime, after publishing a blog in which Chris Murphy, owner of Burlington By The Book, had expressed his frustration with the effect the fire aftermath had on his business and others, I reached out to Suann Wells, owner of The Beancounter Coffeehouse and Drinkery at 212 Jefferson St. for her perspective.
Here’s what Suann wrote to me:
“Similar to Burlington By The Book, we had experienced a great summer of business prior to the Tama fire. We felt like we were starting to gain some great traction, and we were finding ourselves more and more excited and blessed to be a part of downtown Burlington.
“My husband, Gary, and I love the history Burlington has to offer (we live in a home built in 1868 and moved here to purchase a business which had been in business since 1866). Burlington, especially downtown Burlington, is full of magnificent architecture and history.
“When the fire happened, it changed things for us instantly. We obviously weren’t as effected as those businesses on the 300 block of Jefferson but basically we were cut off and still continue to be cut off from the rest of Jefferson Street. We have rallied with those businesses and other businesses downtown and have felt a great support. Downtown is full of small business owners, building owners, long-time residents, etc., who want to see the entire downtown succeed and we’ve felt this support daily. For this we are very appreciative.
“This fire has pushed me to get active in our city council meetings. I’m embarrassed to say I hadn’t previously been involved in anyway and really didn’t know how things worked. It’s been an educational experience for me to say the least and has taught me the importance of local government and having a connection to the people involved. I’ve met the members of the current city council and the mayor of Burlington and have appreciated their time spent hearing my voice.
“If I had to express my disappointment in one aspect, it would be in what I consider a lack of proactive communication with the effected parties and the public in general. When I reach out to the city council, I always receive a response. Always. And usually by more than one member. However, I feel if this communication came in a more regular update, be it from the city or from Mr. Doug Wells, people (myself included) would be much more positive about how things are progressing.
“For example, recently, several pallets of bricks being preserved were removed from the Tama property. It appears it took an entire week to move a few pallets. That appears disappointing and ridiculous to have taken that long for that task.
“But, I also know sometimes more is going on behind the scenes which isn’t always known to the people watching. If the city or Mr. Wells would put out regular or weekly updates as to the progress and what is happening, I feel like more positive and supportive responses would take place.
“When we don’t know what is happening, when it appears things are at a standstill, people many times assume the worst. Whereas, if we knew what obstacles are happening or what direction progress is heading, I believe human nature would allow for more support.
“We all know this is a HUGE undertaking and trying to preserve part of the rubble cannot be easy, but talk to us about that, keep us interested in what is happening, and we will all cheer the progress on to its fruition.
“I mourn the loss of a beautiful piece of the Burlington skyline and the exciting changes it would have brought but my hope is for something great to be placed in this spot for future generations to live, shop, work, and love. I have hope!”
I agree with Suann; weekly updates from the city (council or manager) and/or architect/owner Doug Wells would be a terrific way to keep merchants and citizens informed, and give hope that things are progressing.
In the meantime, if you’re in Burlington or when you are, be sure to head downtown for your shopping and dining! The Beancounter is a wonderful spot in downtown, with plenty of drink options and good food, too. Say hello to Suann as I know she’d love to meet you!