BELLEVUE, Iowa — When Allen Ernst purchased the old button factory in Bellevue, the basement was submerged in the Mississippi River and the top floor was sinking in the middle under its own weight.
It was in far-from-ideal condition. But Ernst only saw potential.
“It will be a hub for the town’s activity,” Ernst said. “This will be the heart and soul of downtown.”
Work is underway to renovate the entirety of the Button Building, 305 S. Riverview St. The structure will be converted into office space, a coffee shop and a center for local educational programs.
The $1.2 million project has seen the building’s grade raised by 16 feet and the removal of thousands of pounds of concrete. When work is finished, Ernst is certain the building will be an impressive site.
“There are only two buildings in town that physically jut out into the river,” Ernst said. “It has views that are just unbelievable.”
Constructed in 1865, the building has taken on a variety of roles over the years, including a grain storage facility, a button factory and a laundromat.
Since the building precedes the construction of Bellevue’s lock and dam, water levels were significantly lower at the time of construction, Ernst said. When the dam was put in place, rising river levels resulted in the building partially stretching out into the river.
About 10 years ago, Ernst purchased the building without any idea of what it would become. At the time, nothing had been done with the structure in more than 10 years, but Ernst believed the building’s proximity to the river made it valuable.
Ernst received a $10,000 State of Iowa catalyst grant in early 2018, and restoration work started that April.
Ernst said particular effort was put into retaining as much of the original structure as possible.
When finished, all three floors will be completely refurbished, with the top floor being accessible from the city street.
Ernst said the building likely will include public restrooms, a coffee shop and rented office space. Space also will be set aside for Bellevue School District’s Bellevue Big program, which organizes students to engage in community projects.
“There’s going to be a lot of activity in the building,” Ernst said. “We’re very excited about it.”
The top level of the building is expected to be finished and open to the public by mid-November. The remaining floors likely will be ready by April.
In total, the building’s three floors will span about 7,000 square feet.
Ernst said he intends to develop the surrounding area, as well. Retaining walls constructed on the surrounding space will allow for the development of parking lots. Boat docks could be placed on the shoreline.
“We want it to be the main access for people coming into Bellevue,” Ernst said.
Dave Heiar, senior adviser with Jackson County Economic Alliance, said the project is an exciting development.
“It’s going to be the premium property in Bellevue,” Heiar said. “It will be like the river is going right underneath it.”