The year is 1915. Woodrow Wilson is president. Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson make the first transcontinental telephone call. Thomas Edison invents the telescribe to record telephone messages. Ford rolls its 1 millionth car off the assembly line.
And in Davenport, a single-story Union Savings Bank and Trust is constructed in the heart of downtown.
A century later in 2015, the Union Arcade building — now an eight-story office building long recognized as downtown anchor — has been reinvented as the Union Arcade Apartments. The latest project by Financial District Properties, the structure has retained much of the physical features of its 100 years of history while adding amenities to its 68 apartments that cater to a modern world, particularly Generation Y.
The collection of studio, one- and two-bedroom units and loft apartments all are brand new spaces with open floorplans, stainless steel appliances, new floorcoverings, walk-in closets and other amenities. But the common areas retain original marble on the floors and walls as well as historic doors left in place only for appearances. Still, some of the building's technologies and features speak to a new era.
The mail chute, while still visible, serves no function. The area that once was a mezzanine has been closed off for a resident lounge and a laundry room. But the laundry machines accept credit cards and residents can be alerted by text message or email when their laundry is done via a new phone app.
"We are marketing to the people who want to be part of the reinvention of downtown Davenport," said Jennifer Kakert, Financial District Properties' chief financial officer. In an email, she added that the property is "nestled in the heart and soul of downtown Davenport at the corner of 3rd and Brady (streets)."
Davenport-based Financial District Properties is led by Quad-City developer Rodney Blackwell, the company's managing partner.
During a building tour last week, Kim Brown, the company's property manager, said recalled how the office building mostly was occupied by attorneys, accountants, other offices as well as a few retail tenants when the developer bought it October 2012. The mezzanine level, which is surrounded by glass windows like a storefront, served as a shared conference room.
"As a result of the layout, each of our apartments has a unique floor plan, with no two alike," Kakert said. The developer worked with the National Park Service and Iowa State Historic Preservation Office on a design to maintain the historic features while converting Union Arcade into market-rate housing. Ryan Cos., Davenport, was the contractor and architect.
According to Brown, more than 20 apartments have signed leases or are in the process of being leased, and tenants will begin moving in by mid-May. A public open house is planned for 4:30-7 p.m. Thursday. A ribbon-cutting with the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce will be at 4 p.m.
The higher the floor a unit is located on, the better the view and the higher the rent, she said. Three units with the bedroom lofted above the rest of the living area look toward the neighboring brick building. "A lot of people want to live downtown and something about loft living appeals to them that they will compromise size and view."
Need trouble getting a mattress up the circular stairway in the loft? There's a YouTube video for that, Brown said.
The apartments were done in two color schemes — shades of gray or shades of beige — from the walls to the carpeting, other flooring and quartz countertops.
"Our tenants will enjoy the charm of being in a historic building with the convenience of downtown living," said Kakert, who pointed to its proximity to the river and the downtown entertainment options.
The $16.65 million renovation marks the third new residential project this year to open in downtown Davenport, said Kyle Carter, executive director of the Downtown Davenport Partnership, an initiative of the chamber. Union Arcade comes on the heels of opening of Market Lofts in January and Halligan Coffee Co. Lofts just weeks earlier. Those projects are in Davenport's Historic Warehouse District.
"This is the largest market rate housing project done right in the center of downtown. A lot of people will be looking forward to living there," Carter said of Union Square. He added that most the new market-rate projects sit on the edges of downtown.
But interest in downtown housing continues to be strong. "A market study we put out there two years ago said we could absolutely support this growth. All that has born out to be true," he added.
With Union Arcade's opening, he said the downtown now has about 1,200 new units. But while other projects have been announced and not begun construction, he predicts Union Arcade likely will be the last residential project completed this year.
According to Carter, the Union Arcade's price point hits a middle market that has been missing from downtown's offerings. "That's really important. We've got to make sure the middle market is taken care of too," he said.
Union Arcade's rents range from $725 to $1,100 for the studios, one-bedrooms and lofts to a range of $1,250 to $1,700 for two-bedroom units.
The project also continues the significant investment occuring in downtown, Carter said, adding $52 million in new investment occurred in 2013 and 2014. "To be over $32 million already in the first four months of the year is amazing," he said.
The project also joins Financial District Properties' renovations in the Wells Fargo building, where it created 29 market-rate apartments on the fifth, ninth, 10th and 11th floors. Kakert said the conversion of commercial real estate "helps meet the demand for the urban living experience."