Lake Mills building to get repairs

Published 10:45 am Thursday, February 10, 2011

The brick building at the corner of Main and Mill streets in Lake Mills, Iowa, is undergoing renovations to attract new retail to the area. -- Michelle Haacke/Albert Lea Tribune

LAKE MILLS, Iowa — The cornerstone building of one local community’s Main Street is getting a facelift.

Built by P.M. Joice in 1900, the prominent brick structure at the corner of Main and Mill streets in Lake Mills doesn’t look so bad from the outside.

Split into four different business entrances along Main Street, two of the spaces are currently occupied: one the home of Youth for Christ and the other, the home of Helgeson Appraisal & Realty.

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The two empty spaces, however, have been unoccupied for awhile and a gander inside those vacancies tells a different story.

“The old jewelry store’s been vacant since 1996, and the roof fell in,” said Scott Helgeson, who serves on the board of directors for Lake Mills Entertainment Inc., the nonprofit organization working on the renovations. “The roof was in the basement.”

Next door, which was home to an insurance company until Jan. 1, 2010, wasn’t in much better shape.

But tearing the building down wasn’t an option for the proud people of this north Iowa community.

“All of us but one on the board have been in Lake Mills all of our lives, and we just couldn’t see this building not being here,” he said.

Like when the old theater closed, the community banded together again to see what could be done. LMEI, Helgeson said, went to the city and various businesses, the state of Iowa and every alumnus to ever pass through Lake Mills, seeking funding.

An $82,000 contribution from the city and another $35,000 from the John K. and Luise V. Hansen Foundation were among contributions to turn this building around. It started with the re-roofing, which Helgeson said was a very labor-intensive task because of all of the cleanup involved in removing debris from the old roof that had fallen in.

Last summer, LMEI received another $150,000 from the city’s tax increment financing. This will go toward new windows and flooring in both spaces and the repair or replacement of the stained glass windows. New rafters will replace rotting ones and new furnaces will be installed. The electricity will need to be updated, as well.

The goal is to get the main levels in each of these two vacancies restored to lease out for retail space. Helgeson hopes the spaces will be completed and rentable by the end of summer.

“Nothing formal’s been done yet, but we’ve had inquiries from a restaurant that wants to rent out both spaces,” Helgeson said.

While Helgeson said there have been suggestions to renovate the second-story spaces into apartment units, he said he has no plans of doing that at this time.

“We’re just trying to get the main floors back into shape,” he said.

While it’s not certain what will happen in the basement levels of the two spaces under renovation, even in a neglected state, both are rich in Lake Mills history. Vaults remain on the main floor and in the basement of the corner spot, which was home to First National Bank when the building was originally built. Remnants of an old barbershop are in another nook of the basement, which Helgeson remembers going to as a kid.

In addition, a few more updates are in store next door at The Mills Theater, which LMEI restored and reopened just a few years back. Helgeson said an expansion includes a second screen and an additional 90 seats being added. New digital signage is slated to be installed outside the theater this March, as well.