WATERLOO — Agreements Wednesday evening set the stage for a potential transformation of downtown Waterloo.
The Waterloo Redevelopment Commission agreed to buy the Ketch Kan Tavern building and the Warm-A-Heart building next door.
The town then will own the entire block of buildings on the west side of Wayne Street, north of the railroad. The commission purchased the former Hart’s grocery store, which occupies half of the block, in early 2017.
“I feel really confident that by the end of this summer, somebody else will bid and own those buildings,” said Town Manager Tena Woenker.
A new owner is likely to demolish at least the Hart’s building, but probably the entire block, to make room for a new building, she said.
“I think the Redevelopment Commission has a dream of retail on the bottom, maybe a restaurant, and maybe affordable, nice apartments up above” in a new building, Woenker said.
“I think it will be transformative to our downtown,” she added. “We’ve been working on this for a couple of years, and to see it come together is so exciting.”
To acquire the entire block, the commission accepted counter-offers Wednesday from the property owners — Steve Reynolds, who is a board member for Warm-A-Heart, and Ketch Kan owners Dave Johnson and Steve Reas, who had offered their building for sale.
“Warm-A-Heart was not for sale. … We really inconvenienced them by asking them to move,” Woenker said about the nonprofit, which operates a soup kitchen.
To reward Warm-A-Heart for its willingness to sell, the Redevelopment Commission will give the nonprofit a vacant lot the town owns at Wayne and Railroad streets, a block south of the railroad tracks. The town acquired the land after an arson fire destroyed the buildings that once stood there.
“They’re going to rebuild their soup kitchen and add a thrift shop,” Woenker said about Warm-A-Heart. The charity will be allowed to operate in its present site during the transition.
Woenker said it is too soon to disclose the price Waterloo paid for the two buildings. Tuesday night, the Waterloo Town Council authorized the Redevelopment Commission to spend more than $25,000 in a transaction. The commission had purchased the Hart’s building for $21,000, which did not require special permission.
Woenker said the Hart’s building is “structurally just not worth repairing” by a purchaser.
If the buildings in the block are razed, she said, “We will try to save any elements that have historical value.” Murals inside the tavern could be photographed to preserve them, she said.
Thursday, Woenker was touring other communities that have completed revitalization projects, looking to gather ideas.
For Waterloo, she said, “We’ve already heard from a restaurant owner that might be interested in coming in if we can build to suit. We’re really hopeful this can make this happen.”