by Gigi Wood

CORALVILLE – One Coralville business owner is at ground zero for flood-recovery projects.
Randy Cole, president of Phil’s Building Supplies, 231 First Ave. in Coralville, is moving his business, which has been at its current location for 23 years.

“After that many years, why would I want to move?” he said.

A combination of flood-recovery projects and road construction are squeezing him out, so he plans to move to 715 Hollywood Blvd. in Iowa City, the former location of Carousel Ford. He said he was told the city could either buy it or condemn the property. The city paid $1.15 million for the lot.

“It sounds like a lot of money, but go try and buy (a new building),” Mr. Cole said.     

He’s not too happy about the move. Mr. Cole likes his location and he invested about $17,000 in renovations in his building after it filled with 4 feet of water during the 2008 floods. A new showroom, insulation, cabinetry, brickwork, flooring and other elements were installed after the flood.

The business, which sells brick, block and stone to contractors and other customers for home building and landscaping projects, received some Jumpstart and local funding to assist with the damage.

“I would have just patched it up and spent $2,000 if I would have known they wanted to buy it,” he said.     

Mr. Cole expected to move his business at the end of August to the new Iowa City location, but construction work on First Avenue is hastening the change. MidAmerican Energy needs to place three transformers on his lot to continue progress on the road and nearby Clear Creek bridge.

“My sales are already down $15,000 a month from a year ago because of the road (construction),” he said. “I am going to be upset when they come down here and put those transformers down in the middle of my parking lot.”

The move to a new town is exposing him to an entirely new city code. Because Phil’s Building Supplies is a change of use for the building, Mr. Cole is required by Iowa City to add shrubbery and other landscaping features to the property. He is spending nights and weekends making the changes to save money.

“You’ve got to do all those codes for the city, so that’s another expense I hadn’t figured in,” he said.

Commercial windows will be added to the former car dealership’s showroom, which Mr. Cole will use for display space. Customers of Phil’s Building Supplies said they don’t mind the location change and tell Mr. Cole it might be an easier spot to get in and out of than First Avenue.

“I’ve got people telling me they don’t want to fight getting in (to the First Avenue location) and fight getting out,” he said. “They won’t turn in, they go to my competition.”

The city is sympathetic to Mr. Cole’s plight.

“He’s a really good guy and he really has worked with us a lot and he’s been very, very cooperative,” said Kelly Hayworth, Coralville’s city administrator. “I feel bad; the transformers, that it has to be next week, that it can’t be three weeks or four weeks after he moves. Things are just one after another that keeps happening. He’s definitely in the wrong spot.”

Coralville will use the lot to make way for a variety of flood recovery projects, including work to the Iowa River, the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railroad, First Avenue and the addition of trails.

“When this is all done, the only thing that will really be left on the lot is about the building itself because the creek and the trail come from the south, the railroad work comes from the east and the street comes from the west,” he said.

The city did not know until earlier this year that it would need to buy the property.

“In his particular case (buying the property) really didn’t come up until all of the design work was done,” Mr. Hayworth said. “It’s really three different projects that impact him and until you see the effects of all them, you couldn’t tell. As soon as we knew that we went to him and said, ‘Here’s the deal and here’s what’s going to happen.’ But at the time of the floods we obviously had no clue it needed to be done. It’s unfortunate that he did do some work to the building but I think hopefully he’ll come out financially in the end.”

The Clear Creek bridge and the CRANDIC railroad along First Avenue are being raised to protect from future flooding.