Concerned last year that downtown Davenport would lose one of its historic buildings, one resident went out on a whim to save it.
Davenport Fire Capt. Sean Terrell made his move last spring, not long after a section of the roof caved in on the former Emeis Automotive Service building at 218 Iowa St. At first, he inquired about purchasing only the shop’s classic neon sign.
Owner Ben Hopkins had other ideas, however.
“The only way he would sell me the sign was if I would buy the building with it,” Terrell said. “I laughed at first, but then I thought about it a little harder and thought it might be a good time to invest back in the community I live and work in.”
In October, the 48-year-old Terrell, who lives in Davenport's McClellan Heights neighborhood, said he paid $76,000 to take over ownership of the 8,000-square-foot building.
Since then, he has invested in the property, which is getting a ground-up facelift this season.
"Honestly, it was the furthest thing from my mind to go and purchase the building, but I just didn't want to see it demolished," said Terrell, who moved here 24 years ago from Peoria. "It's an exciting time to be part of the neighborhood."
Once he rehabs the site, he hopes to find someone interested in leasing and filling the commercial space with a restaurant, bar or other business.
Walter Emeis founded Emeis Automotive Services in 1906, and in 1924, the family built the property Terrell recently acquired. In 1987, they sold the decades-old company to Hopkins.
Although cold weather ceased mortar work on Friday, Davenport-based P.R. Masonry crews are laying specialty handmade bricks, which were shipped from South Carolina, on the front, or east side, of the building. He hopes to add more greenspace and lighting near the entrance, as well.
The work, which currently extends into the southbound lane of Iowa Street between 2nd and 3rd streets, is slowing two-way traffic along that short stretch, but delays should not last.
“Hopefully, all the brick work will be done within the next month, and then the barricades will come down,” Terrell said.
In the early spring, the independent developer plans to replace the glass windows, garage doors and the roof, which structurally, still stands strong. The collapse damaged only the top layer, or decking.
Then comes the interior renovation, which Terrell predicts will finish by early summer.
Eventually, he hopes to reinstall his treasured neon Emeis sign, which is being restored, to honor the building's past. Up to this point, Terrell said he has not approached the city about any financial incentives, but he did note he has been working closely with the Davenport Design Review Board.
Mike Peppers, who runs Sergeant Peppers Auto Shop next door at 323 E. 3rd St., commended Terrell on his investments.
“I’m thrilled,” he said, using “beautiful” to describe his new neighbor’s plans. “I know he won’t let up on it.”
Mike’s brother, Bob, called Terrell a "man on the move," who operates at one speed — “100 mph.”
Terrell, who is married with one son, also owns a Bettendorf-based landscaping and erosion control business and works about 56 hours every week for the Davenport Fire Department.
Five years ago, Terrell said, there's no way he would have funded a project this size in downtown Davenport.
“I was shaking my head wondering what they were doing spending their money on the riverfront and downtown, but now it all makes sense,” he said. “Their investment inspired me to spend my money in that neighborhood.”