The city of Davenport's effort to jump-start redevelopment of a residential area on East 6th Street long plagued by abandoned houses, empty lots and sporadic crime appears to be paying off.
Last week, the Davenport City Council agreed to convey a 1.6-acre vacant parcel on the north side of 6th Street between Grand and Sylvan avenues to architect Andrew Dasso for the building of six new single-family homes, beginning this summer.
Dasso and his family would build and occupy one, another would be built and occupied by a young family and a third would be built by Dasso "on spec." The remaining three lots would be offered for sale, bundled with Dasso-created home plans, and should have homes on them within two years.
The architect's aim is to create a community, not just housing.
His commitment is precisely what the city has been seeking since 2015-16 when it began an effort to spur private investment in the neighborhood by clearing out dilapidated homes and building three, affordable, single-family homes, said Bruce Berger, the city's director of community planning and economic development.
The city expects to build three additional homes this summer. All told, the city will have spent about $2.3 million in the area for acquisition, demolition and construction of homes and the replacement of deteriorated sidewalks and retaining walls, according to figures provided by the city.
"Where we see disinvestment, the government needs to step in more deeply to encourage re-investment," Berger said.
"We're excited," he said of Dasso's plans.
The city-built homes were financed through a $400,000 grant from the HOME Investment Partnership of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Income restrictions required that a single buyer have an annual income not to exceed $37,240 and a family of four have an annual income not to exceed $53,000, Berger said.
Dasso's homes will be market rate.
"We hope to create a community that will provide appraisal value," Dasso said, speaking in his office called (design)(build) by architects at 318 E. 3rd St. "A blighted area doesn't have a lot of appraisal value. We're hoping to pull that up."
Two reasons both the city and Dasso regard the area as prime for redevelopment are great views of the Mississippi River and close proximity to other redevelopments, including the new residential/commercial spaces being built in the former Harbor View building off Federal Street and a new Scott County Family Y planned for the former W.G. Block property.
Dasso is getting financial help from the city in the sense that the 1.6-acre parcel will be given to him for free, so he doesn't have land costs. The conveyance comes along with a three-year deadline for when the six homes are to be built.
The parcel in question has been mostly vacant since the 1990s. Some homes were acquired as they came up for tax sales, with the last two purchased in the $30,000 range and demolished to free up the area for redevelopment, Berger said.
In addition to the land, the homes are in an urban revitalization tax exemption zone in which taxes on improvements can be exempt for three years, or abated on a sliding scale for 10 years, depending on what the developer chooses, Berger explained.
But everything else will be private financing.
The city had issued two formal "requests for proposals" for the parcel since 2000, but the only serious inquiry was for a multi-family apartment building, which "wasn't what everyone was envisioning," Berger said.
The city also shopped the idea of a "tiny house" development of perhaps 10 to 12 homes on the parcel, but "ultimately, no one again responded," Berger said.
Speaking about Dasso's project, 2nd Ward Alderwoman Maria Dickmann said she "loves the idea of infill, and the prospect of new families that can bring new life into the central city."
And, "with the modular construction, if you can construct the homes for what they are worth, that's good."
The homes, Dasso's bigger vision
Dasso expects to hold down construction costs by about 20 percent by having the homes based on his custom designs constructed in modules by Homeway Homes, based in Deer Creek, Illinois. The modules would then be brought to the site and "we can finish the exterior," he said.
He is hoping the homes can be built for $175,000 to $250,000.
To maximize the river views, the homes will have walkout basements facing south, with the front door facing 7th Street on the north.
But it's a "bigger vision outside of six homes," Dasso said. "I like to look at this as neighborhood development. We're hoping to create a community where we can raise our children together and have family dinners together and so forth."
The couple building the home next to him, Brad and Robin Wixom, are excited about this prospect, too.
Brad is a machinist for Deere & Co., working in the cylinder division. Robin runs an online craft supplies business from home, and they have a 3-year-old daughter. They currently live about six blocks away from the neighborhood, and are feeling the need for a bigger place to accommodate Robin's growing business.
"When Andrew and Marguerite approached us, we said, 'If you're going to be our neighbors, we're in,'" Robin Wixom said.
Robin has known Andrew since they went to middle school together in Rock Island. They reconnected as adults, and their families have become friends.
"We're excited about this project," Robin Wixom said. "We can't wait. We hope to be moved in by the end of the year. We're just waiting on our builder. We're ready to rock 'n' roll."
Dasso's long-range hope for the area would be for the building of a commercial space, say a coffee shop, where neighbors could meet. He draws inspiration from the redevelopment of the historic Sherman Hill area of Des Moines where he lived several years ago.
"I don't see a reason why it can't happen here," he said.