Friday, March 27, 2015

Urban Renewal vs. Historic Preservation: The Sioux City, Iowa Story

VI. The Sioux City, Iowa Story

        Sioux City, Iowa was no exception to urban renewal of the past or present. In the mid 1960’s funding was granted to renew various areas of downtown and on the west side of Sioux City. Three of these areas are where the present day Mid-American Energy Building and the adjacent parking ramp stand, where the Sioux CIty Public Museum and Sioux City Public School District office building now stand and where a large public housing apartment now stand. These buildings were constructed in the late 1960’s to the late 1970’s. All of these areas are equal to three large square blocks of the downtown and westside areas. Some of the buildings razed were the Sioux City Journal building, the T.S. Martin Department Store Building, the Capitol Theater building historic homes along with a park being relocated. The site of the parking ramp was where the Sioux City Journal building stood. On the site of the T.S. Martin Department Store building a new JC Penney building was constructed. This building is now the Sioux City Public Museum and Research Center. A newer building was attached later which today houses the public school district offices. On the west-side the current apartment building is the former site of a city park, which has been relocated a block away. The site of the both the current park and public housing building stood the former park plus historic homes. Sioux City was granted over $4 million dollars of urban renewal funding to which the city had to contribute over $2 million. The city had an urban renewal department with a director who worked on the funding grants and helped with the relocation of people out of the so called blighted areas designated as an urban renewal area. There was even an urban renewal newsletter called The Phoenix. It had articles that included a grievance process for those who felt they were wronged when they had to relocate. The Phoenix also included up to date information on the urban renewal areas of Sioux City. It provided information on urban renewal efforts happening from Washington D.C., especially when it came to the funding. There are several newspaper articles of the 1960’s informing about the urban renewal plans, funding and updates of the section of the city most affected by it. In the early 1970’s before the urban renewal program was defunded by President Nixon an area today called the Historic Fourth Street District was slated to be demolished in favor of new buildings planned for the area. It was the defunding which saved these buildings, many of which were built in the late 1800’s. In the 1990’s the Historic Fourth Street restoration project was started and today it is a booming area of the city with private retailers and restaurants. This historic district plays host to some major events throughout the year. In the mid to late 1970’s, after the JC Penney building was completed, the Sioux City city council thought it would be a good idea to allow two competing shopping center developers via for a location within Sioux City to construct and open their new shopping center. One was planning on building downtown on a then empty lot, the other in the Morningside area of town on an empty hillside. There are several letters from private residents and downtown business owners to a former Sioux City mayor and councilman opposing and supporting the idea. His was the swing vote on the issue. He voted in favor of the shopping mall now standing in Morningside. This helped save the further destruction of several historic buildings in downtown Sioux City.  more recent example of local historic preservation involved the Williges Building which was designed by William L. Steele. The former owner of he building, Security National Bank, wanted to tear it down for a new parking lot. They would have used their own funds to do so which would have been their legal right. When it was discovered what they were intending on doing public outcry started to prevent the destruction of the building. It worked. From the general public to the state historical society and the local public museum the building was spared the wrecking ball. The Williges building was sold and today the a local law firm uses the building for their offices. Since then the Williges has been put on the National Register of Historic Places. The Sioux City Historic Preservation Commission and the city council are working on creating, adopting and passing a historic preservation plan and ordinances to help preserve the remaining historic buildings in the city. Both sides in Sioux CIty have worked together to preserve the city’s history and revitalize the city and make it more sustainable for everyone. If this effort and process continues historic buildings will continue to be saved and re-purposed for new use, old buildings with no historic value and buildings that may have historic value that cannot and should not be saved will be torn down and new development will be built upon the empty lots. Both sides have picked their battles wisely and have worked together as each side has learned the lessons of past mistakes.

Previous articles in the series: