Today, the inside of the Forrest Block building is mostly empty.
There are floors, rafters, load-bearing beams and a stripped-down, three-story staircase, but it is mostly empty space.
Save for fluted cast-iron columns, a damaged tile floor at the entrance and some decorative staircase molding, every interior architectural feature that would speak to the building’s past appears to be gone.
On a recent tour led by Amy Gill, one of the owners of Restoration St. Louis, workers were finishing asbestos removal, with large hazardous materials barrels stacked on the first floor. Visitors stepped carefully to avoid holes in the floor, and rainwater dripped through a couple of roof openings.
Gill was upbeat, however, about her company’s $4 million project that will see the creation of 24 market-rate apartments.
The next step will be to board up the windows to preclude more damage over winter and show the community that something is happening.
Then she will wait for approval of renovation plans from the National Parks Service, which has a say-so because it administers the National Register of Historic Places on which the Forrest Block is listed. Approval is a prerequisite for awarding historic tax credits, part of the project’s financing package.
Approval is expected in six weeks or so, and then construction work can begin in earnest, with completion expected nine months to a year from then, Gill said.
“I intend to push really hard,” she added.
Plans call for a lobby, fitness center and eight apartments on the first floor, including four with live-work studio and gallery space that is intended for artists or architects. The second and third floors also will have eight apartments each.
Some of the apartments will overlook a courtyard in the middle of the building that was built into the 1875 design to bring light and air to the interior. The courtyard will be restored as greenspace, with a retractable glass roof, and apartments overlooking it will have small balconies.
Through an agreement with the city, 30 parking spaces will be provided, including some on 4th Street and in the lot next to St. Anthony’s Church that is used by the Davenport Public Library.
Mayor Bill Gluba is enthusiastic about the Gills’ plan because of the construction jobs it will create and because there is a demand for housing in the downtown, where the current units enjoy a 97 percent occupancy rate, he said.
“It makes good economic sense and will add to our tax base,” he added.
In addition, he supports the historic preservation aspect.
“Great cities are known by their structures,” he said. “A standard shopping mall, you can see that anywhere. Vacant lots, vacant spots — that won’t draw people downtown.”
A refurbished Forrest Block will be a positive image for Davenport, an attractive gateway, Gluba said.