PROPHETSTOWN – The town will buy seven of the eight downtown lots involved in the July 15 fire and possibly donate them to the rebuilding effort, the mayor said Tuesday.
The lots were appraised by a private appraiser and seven of the eight building owners agreed to sell them to Prophetstown, which likely will deduct the cost of the lot from the owner's share of what the town is paying to have the rubble cleared, Mayor Steve Swanson said.
The town hasn't yet bought the lots, which Swanson estimated at $40,000 combined. The town will use money from the "Rebuild Prophetstown Strong" fund, and if there isn't enough in the fund, will re-evaluate the plan, Swanson said.
The eight buildings – about a quarter of the downtown – were destroyed in the fire that started behind Cindy Jean's Restaurant, 324 Washington St., around 2:30 a.m. Two brothers, ages 16 and 12, were arrested July 16 and have been charged with arson, residential arson and 14 counts of criminal damage to property.
Donating the lots back to some of the previous building owners or to new developers will help the town maintain some control of the aesthetics and overall plan of the new businesses, as well as serve as an incentive to attract developers, Swanson said, adding that a plan or blueprint would have to be presented to the town to receive a donated lot.
Creating a facade to look like the rest of the historic downtown, while the rest of the buildings could be metal or more modern, is a possibility, he added. It's an idea that has been discussed by other community leaders.
The previous buildings were only 23 feet wide, which limited what some business owners could do, he said.
By the town controlling seven of the eight lots, multiple lots can be given to a developer with a plan, like Cindy Eriks, owner of Cindy Jean's Restaurant, who said she wants to rebuild and expand with a reception hall, dining area and bigger kitchen.
Eriks wants four lots and has plenty of ideas about what to do with them if she gets them. But right now she's stuck in the "idea phase" as the process moves along slower than she wants.
"I have a lot of ideas," she said. "But everything has taken so long. I’m trying to be patient and see how it goes."
Eriks, who also lived above her restaurant, now is living in Dixon. She's dealing with some health issues, and if she's physically able to run her restaurant she will. But if she can't, she wants to find someone she can teach and show how to cook her food her way, she said.
While the cleanup began Sept. 5, Monday was the first day of real progress, with one of the lots being completely cleared, Swanson said. It could take 3 to 4 weeks to finish, he added, but the scope of the job will be better understood after crews see what burned and what didn't.
"I know that things will be better," Eriks said. "The ashes we see now will turn into beauty. It’s hard to imagine now."
Prophetstown has set up a fund, "Rebuild Prophetstown Strong," to help clean up and rebuild the downtown. Donations can be made to Farmers National Bank branches in Prophetstown, Geneseo and Morrison, as well as IH Mississippi Valley Credit Union locations, one of which is in Prophetstown.