Redevelopment plans for Marquette’s school building

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One of Marquette’s most historic buildings is being redeveloped. New owners Chad and Kandi Gillitzer, at a Jan. 23 Marquette special council meeting, shared their plans to create apartments, a vacation rental, bistro and rooftop patio at the Schoolhouse Mall on North Street. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


One of Marquette’s most historic buildings is being redeveloped.


New owners Chad and Kandi Gillitzer, at a Jan. 23 Marquette special council meeting, shared their plans to create apartments, a vacation rental, bistro and rooftop patio at the Schoolhouse Mall.


“There’s tremendous opportunity here that’s not being capitalized on, just with the traffic that goes by and this being a tourist area. It’s a beautiful location,” said Chad. “I felt, with this building, as structurally sound as it is, this could breathe new life into it.”


The building, located at 204 North St., marks its 100th anniversary this year. It was constructed in 1923, at the site of the foundry established by John Thompson and George Keen in 1858. It was Marquette’s third school and stood several hundred feet west of where the first one was located, according to an article from the North Iowa Times. The Marquette School held all 12 grades until formation of the Mar-Mac School District in 1952, then housed most of the elementary students before its closure in 1987. 


The property sat empty until 1988, when Bud Jamesen purchased the space to create the Schoolhouse Mall, where dealers began selling a variety of crafts, collectibles and antiques. John Ries and his wife Karen had owned and operated the Schoolhouse Mall since 2007.


“There are a lot of people we know that we didn’t realize went to school there. There’s a lot of history we didn’t realize until we started digging into it,” Chad shared. “To restore a building like that, I think it’s going to draw a lot of people because it’s unique.”


The Gillitzers plan to retain many of the school building’s historic details, such as the floors and brickwork, as they embark on interior and exterior renovations.


According to Chad, the current plan is to create a two-bedroom vacation rental on the west side of the third floor, in what’s now one large room.

“The east side of the hallway is two classrooms that kind of mirror each other. The center hallway has bathrooms in it and a place where the kids hung up their coats. We’re going to turn those into one-bedroom apartments,” he continued. “Directly below that, on the second floor, almost exactly the same. They will also be one-bedroom apartments on the east side of the building, facing the river.”


The first and second floors on the west side will be combined into two- or three-bedroom units.


“The bedrooms will be on the second floor, and then you’ll come down the steps to your living room and kitchen,” Chad explained.


Six permanent apartments will be created in all, each with their own laundry.


Kandi said the need for housing in the area was one reason the school building was an attractive purchase.


“We have housing projects already that we’ve owned for over 10 years, so we realize that’s a need and we’d like to give that to Marquette,” she said.


Continuing work Ries had already started, the remaining part of the first floor will tentatively be turned into a bistro with a concept similar to The Brim in Elkader or Simply in Prairie du Chien, Wis.


“But we don’t want to be tunnel vision with what we see that space used for. We’re open to alternatives,” Kandi noted.


“We also want to do some changes on the outside, along the east side of the building, and create a patio and some outdoor seating,” she added.


For the Gillitzers, the most anticipated aspect of the redevelopment project is the rooftop patio. Chad cited Smokestack in Dubuque as inspiration.


“They took their whole rooftop and converted it into a gathering place. That’s what we’re going to go after,” he said. “It will be the pinnacle of the project.” 


“Initially, with the rooftop patio, we thought that would just be a benefit of living there,” Kandi stated. “Then we were thinking, if that was a patio, there could be live entertainment, something cultural. It would be a beautiful place to hang out. We want it to be trendy, to create some buzz in Marquette.”


According to Chad, structural plans for the building include making it handicap accessible and updating the electrical. Wrought iron black balconies will go up on the side of the building, serving as both an aesthetically pleasing feature and a fire escape. Outside, retaining wall work will deal with storm water. 


The Gillitzers hope a $100,000 Community Catalyst Grant through the Iowa Economic Development Authority will help with some of this work. The Marquette Council, at last week’s special meeting, approved submitting a pre-application on behalf of the project. The council also agreed to provide $10,000 in matching funds from the city.


If awarded, it would be Marquette’s second Community Catalyst Grant.


“We were awarded the grant last year for the North Street Apartment Building,” which sits kitty corner from the Schoolhouse Mall, said city clerk Bonnie Basemann. “The state said we are eligible to apply again. This is to rehab the whole building—the interior and exterior. It’s a two-year grant. If it’s awarded, they can begin work in June. Then, it’s two years from then to complete.”


That timeline won’t be a problem for the Gillitzers.


“We have an aggressive timeline,” said Kandi. “Initially, at least for the first year, we plan to retain our antique vendors. A lot of them are staying with us. They’ve just been relocated so we can start working on certain spaces. As the grants come in and we can complete things a little more quickly, we’ll subcontract even further and push that timeline forward.”


Council members and mayor Steve Weipert are excited about the redevelopment. The vacation rental will generate hotel/motel tax and the bistro local option sales tax, in addition to employing people. 


“A lot of pluses,” said council member Tracy Melver.


“There are no negatives I can see,” Weipert added.


The Gillitzers are equally excited to contribute to Marquette’s future while honoring its past.


“We like the high visibility of the building itself—you can see it from any direction you come into Marquette. It will be nice to build something that’s a destination for Marquette,” Kandi said. “It’s a great way to repurpose the building and keep it as lively as we can for as long as we can.”

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