Grand Islanders were able to learn more about downtown historic buildings and how they have been renovated during a presentation Sunday afternoon.
Downtown developer Amos Anson gave a presentation on downtown historic buildings and his work to renovate them as part of a Hall County Historical Society program at The Chocolate Bar, 116 Third St. He said he has spent the past eight to 10 years revitalizing downtown buildings.
“I am only a small part of what is going on down here,” Anson said. “It takes an entire team.”
The first downtown building renovation project Anson took on was The Tattered Book building in 2008. He renovated the building, redid its facade and transformed the upstairs rooms into apartments.
After completing that renovation project, Anson began renovations on what would become The Chocolate Bar — the site of the former Piccadilly Theater — in 2010. He said when he first started on the building “it was in complete disrepair.”
“We tore the front off and put in all the new windows and (front) patio,” he said. “We chipped the plaster off the brick walls. There was not much character left in this building.”
In 2013, Anson worked to renovate Tower 217 — the former Masonic Labor Temple into apartment buildings and storefronts on the street level.
“It is technically a high-rise, so that presented a whole new set of challenges to renovate that,” he said. “There was a whole new set of codes we had to follow.”
Anson said he still has not done anything with the top floor at Tower 217. Some of the rooms at Tower 217 are Airbnbs — properties that can be rented out for a certain period of time like a motel room.
In 2016, he said, he renovated a street-level space of Tower 217 into what is now Helium Salon after owner Sierra Arends inquired about the space.
“My brother and I were scraping through a floor one Sunday and she (Arends) and her mom walked by,” Anson said. “She said she was a beautician in Omaha and wanted to return to Grand Island to open her own shop. People approach me all the time and I ask for a pro forma and a business plan and usually I never hear from them again. But Sierra (Arends) actually did all that and we were able to work things out. It looks beautiful in there.”
He said the project with Arends and Helium Salon is an example of how the revitalization of downtown is able to drive young people back to Grand Island.
In 2015, Anson said, he started renovation work on the former Ben’s Pharmacy building to turn it into what is now McKinney’s Irish Pub. The floors there are original to the building.
At McKinney’s, he cut a hole in the west side of the building to put in an outdoor seating area.
One woman in the audience Sunday asked what is above McKinney’s. Anson said there are five renovated office spaces, including his own construction office, housed there.
That same year, he said, he worked to turn the former Kaufman Park into what is now Railside Plaza, home to the Hear Grand Island summer concert series.
“I know we get some flak down here for cutting down trees, but in this situation, there were so many droppings from the birds that nobody used the park ever because it was all over the place,” Anson said. “We did have to cut down some trees, but we replanted some, too.”
He said it is “neat to see” people downtown at Railside Plaza during Hear Grand Island who are enjoying downtown Grand Island.
In 2016, Anson renovated the back of the former Williamson’s Interior building into Prairie Pride Brewing Co. That location was originally built to be a plumbing supply house.
In renovating the building to become Prairie Pride, he said, he chipped the plaster off the walls, exposed the structural columns and refinished the floor. He also cut a hole through the structure to allow for an entrance to the building.
Anson worked his way next door in 2017 when he renovated a historic building into what is now Helix Financial, owned by former Mayor Jeremy Jensen.
“This building was a little challenging as it is 30 inches off the ground,” he said. “We had to make it Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant, so we had to make a ramp and do all that.”
Last year, Anson began work on his current historic renovation project at the former Hedde building — the former location of Wayne’s Pawn Shop. He plans to put some patio spaces all around the building and install an ADA-compliant side ramp to access the basement.
The building will have three storefronts on the street level. On the second and third floors, Anson plans to put in 20 total apartments.
After the talk, he hosted a tour of a few of the buildings mentioned in his presentation.
The Hall County Historical Society hosts historic presentations the second Sunday of each month through April, with the exception of December. The cost is $5 for nonmembers and they’re free to members. The annual membership fee is $25.