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MUSCATINE — After a drawn-out process, an unsightly building in Muscatine may soon see improvements.

City Council approved two requests at Thursday night’s meeting addressing the property at 500 Mulberry Ave. on the corner of East 5th Street: one for the cost of asbestos and lead-based paint inspections and the other for the state of Iowa to pay for it.

“It’s a great location,” City Communications Manager Kevin Jenison said. “We certainly want to do something with it to bring value to that corner.”

The city approved the purchase order for asbestos containing material testing and lead-based paint testing to be done by 7G Inc. of Clive, Iowa, for $5,200.

Community Development Director Dave Gobin said that once inspections for hazardous materials begin, they could take weeks as inspectors go through the inside and outside of the building to perform tests in addition to making observations of the structure.

If asbestos and lead are not found, Gobin said, “it gives a clean slate to construct from.”

Council also approved a contract with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to reimburse the city for the environmental assessments as part of the Brownfield Redevelopment Program.

"It is unusual and also welcomed that the state was willing to partner to see this building improved," Jenison said.

According to the IDNR website, brownfields are “abandoned, idled, or under-used industrial and commercial facilities where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination.”

Due to the age of the building, the environmental tests are required before the property may be reconstructed or demolished. Approving the contract with IDNR means the city will not pay for the studies required to move on to the next phase in rehabbing the dilapidated building.

Jenison said the testing at the property “is crucial to moving this process along.”

According to the contract, testing should be completed before the end of November.

The brick building with green façade and bay windows used to be the home of Escorpion Bar more than five years ago. After the bar closed, the building sat vacant and fell apart.

Despite its appearance and the pile of bricks that have crumbled from its back wall, the more than 100-year old building still has “good bones,” Jenison said after a structural engineer and mason both toured the property and deemed it structurally sound. He said part of the final agreement may also include details on negotiating clean-up of the property.

The city released a request for proposals in March asking for plans specifically from real estate developers, contractors, rehabilitators and historic building preservationists. The city wants the building to be renovated rather than demolished so it may be returned to the tax rolls, Jenison said.

The city has identified three different parties interested in the building, with one in particular interested in preserving and repairing it pending the results of the environmental inspections, he said. 

"I'm not sure about historical value, but the buyer believes it has commercial value," Jenison said. The building sits next to El Olmito Grocery.

Noticeable change at the property, Jension said, would be no sooner than next spring.

“It’s not a short process, that’s for sure,” he said.

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