Iowa city sells multiple old buildings

May 13, 2018

LEHIGH, Iowa (AP) — Roger Smith has lived in Lehigh for 82 years, and can remember when customers would pack into the Lehigh Valley Cafe for taco night. It’d be so full, you might not find a seat.

The cafe is closed now. It sits just up the road from older buildings which have been in disuse longer, and have begun to crumble with age.

Smith bought the cafe because he doesn’t want to see that happen here.

“Because we need a restaurant in town, mainly,” Smith told The Messenger . “I don’t know. I didn’t want to see it torn down. And I didn’t want to see it just completely fall apart.”

Smith is in good company. He bought the cafe for $25,500 on Feb. 26. That same week, Randall Andrews, of Dayton, bought the former gas station across the street for $25,000, according to the Webster County Auditor’s online records.

And on April 9, the City Council agreed to sell a building it owned to Joe Tuel for $501.

This one, from the outside at least, appears to be in the worst shape.

“We’re hoping we can start to remodel it,” Tuel said. “I’d like to redo it all, and get an apartment back upstairs and then redo the downstairs.”

He’s not sure yet what would go downstairs.

“I have no idea,” Tuel said. “I’d just like to redo the storefront on it and get the inside redone.”

Neither Smith nor Tuel have ever “flipped” an old building and made it something new before. But both have construction experience, and something more — a desire to see new things come to their town.

“I’m from the area,” said Tuel, who owns Webster Glass in Fort Dodge. “I am just tired of it looking the way it does.

“We’re in the construction business, so we would like to give it a shot, and see if we can get it at least rentable.”

And Smith and Bill Hatch, who is helping him with the project, are used to hard work. Right now they have photos of a vulture they met at one of their recent jobs tearing down a corn crib. They’re not what you would call retired.

“Tired? Yes we’re tired,” Hatch said. “Re-? No.”

The two are still plugging away, Smith said.

“I still do construction work — dump truck and bulldozer and backhoe. Stuff like that, when I get time,” he said.

When he walks through the cafe, he sees potential.

“The building’s good. It needs a good cleaning,” Smith said. “This place was busy when they were running it right. . I know the potential is here.

Smith said he plans to find someone else to run a restaurant in the building.

“I’ll give them a good deal on rent, and the city will give them a break on utilities, for a while. I want somebody to make it. I don’t want them to come in here for two or three months and be broke. I’ll help them as much as I can, but I want somebody that can come in and make it work.”

For a time, the gas station across the street also held a grocery store, Smith said. Then, when it closed down, the cafe owners tried to run both a restaurant and a grocery business from the building he now owns.

That was a mistake, according to Smith. He’s going to take out the shelving and make more room for seating.

“This doesn’t have no business being in a restaurant,” he said.

He’s gotten the walk-in cooler working again, Smith said. It needed a new compressor and two new motors in the fans, for about $2,500. The building also needs a lot of cleaning, and painting.

Smith has had two or three people interested in the restaurant already.

“But one of them wanted to do a seven-day-a-week, three-meals-a-day buffet style,” Smith said, “and I don’t think that would work in Lehigh... We’ll get it working. We’ll find somebody.”

Smith said Tuel’s building was once a drugstore. It was built in 1920, according to online records. The city of Lehigh took control of the building in 2013 in a court-ordered sale.

Since then, the city put a new roof on the building and removed the asbestos in preparation for a future buyer.

“That’s kind of exciting,” Mayor Phil Richardson said about the sales. “It will be interesting to see where all this goes to.”

The Messenger was unable to get in touch with Andrews in time for this article.

There are still three buildings on Main Street, owned privately, that Richardson and other town officials hope will be sold soon. They’re across the street from the cafe, just north of the post office, and have been surrounded by a safety fence for over a year after debris fell from them during a storm.

Hopefully good things will come from the recent purchases.

“I just hope it will start something,” Tuel said.


Information from: The Messenger, http://www.messengernews.net

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