Future of Davenport’s oldest building uncertain

Local News

John Hiller built the building in 1852, but it has sat vacant for years

DAVENPORT, Iowa — One of Davenport’s oldest and most historic buildings is stuck in limbo.

The chances are you’ve driven by the Hiller building near Gaines and Third Streets. John Hiller built it in 1852, making it the oldest building in the city.

It’s now been empty for years.

“It is vacant. It is abandoned. It is derelict,” said third ward alderwoman Marion Meginnis.

But Meginnis said the Hiller should be saved.

“John Hiller was a stone mason who helped build the very first bridge across the Mississippi,” Meginnis said.

Hiller built the first part as a family home, but as Davenport grew by the thousands he added apartments.

“The building almost evolved with the population,” Meginnis said. “It needs some tender loving care and it needs some investment.”

Meginnis estimates it would cost about $600,000 to renovate. She’s spent years trying to find a team to willing to take it on, but she hasn’t had any luck.

“People say, well, just take it down,” Meginnis said. “Well, if this were taken down, it’s very unlikely anything would be built in its place.”

But there is hope.

“A lot of people thought that the people who bought the standard hotel were crazy and that it was just an eye sore,” said German American Heritage Center executive director Kelly Lao.

It was one of davenport’s first hotels, but by the 1990s it was run down and covered in rusty fire escapes. After a $1.3 million renovation, it became the German American Heritage Center.

“It’s sad to see a building get to disrepair and not be utilized anymore,” Lao said.

With one wall on the Hiller nearing a desperate state of disrepair, Meginnis hopes to find the right developer before it’s too late.

“When we lose things like this … we really lose our sense of place, we lose a sense of our past, we lose a sense of what makes davenport unique,” she said.

Meginnis said because the Hiller is listed on the national register, it qualifies for the historic tax credit. That would guarantee a developer 45% back on their investment. She said the city would be willing to work out a deal, too.

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