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Livery to become banquet facility

City council approves new use for historic Solon stable

By Doug Lindner
Solon Economist
SOLON– One of Solon’s oldest structures will soon be back in use.
The livery stable located at the corner of Main and Dubuque streets in Solon is scheduled to become an events center.
At a meeting last week, members of the Solon City Council approved an amendment to the site plan for Uptown Main which would change the structure’s use to that of a banquet facility.
According to developer and owner Al Wells, Stable Arts + Events already has its first booking, scheduled for October. The main and lower levels of the livery, built in 1839, will be available to rent for weddings, receptions, graduation parties, conferences and club meetings.
“It’s going to get a lot of different uses,” Wells said.
On a 3-1 vote, council members approved the amended site plan at a regular meeting Sept. 4, with Jessie Ehlinger casting the dissenting vote.
Other than concerns about the building’s ability to support its capacity of 160 people, council members only had one issue, and that was parking.
The only change in the site plan was the intended use of the building, from general commercial to that of a banquet facility.
The amendment was reviewed by the Solon Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission and approved, with the proviso that the building be re-inspected by the city.
According to city administrator Cassandra Lippincott, P&Z members felt parking would be an issue, but didn’t want to require more off-street parking.
Council member Mark Krall questioned Wells about the foundation that was poured in front of the livery. “Is that just still going to sit there, or are we going to do something with that?”
Wells said if the events center prospers, he would put an additional building up. The front foundation needed to be put in because of the handicapped ramp placed in front of the stable, Wells explained.
Shortly after Wells purchased the historic structure in 2007, he undertook a restoration project on the livery which was later honored by the Friends of Historic Preservation, in conjunction with the Iowa City Historic Preservation Commission and the Johnson County Historic Preservation Commission.
The barn served as a livery for the Palmer House Hotel and later housed livestock en route to market. Apparently at some point, a steeple and bell were mounted on the roof, leading to speculation this structure may have served as either a church or school.
More recently, the site was home to Bob’s DX Service Station.
The barn’s two-foot thick walls are fashioned from stones quarried in the area that became Lake Macbride, and the sand mortar originated on the banks of the Cedar River. As was common at the time, the massive wood columns were joined with wooden pegs.Wells said he came up with the idea for the stable’s latest incarnation after being asked on numerous occasions whether the building could be rented.
When asked by council member Ron Herdliska where the 160 people attending the facility would park, Wells responded. “Probably on the street, city parking lot, Mushroom Park, and over here at the grocery store,” he said.
“And that’s a real problem that we’re starting to have,” Stange observed. He indicated the city would have to take a look at the lack of parking downtown in the near future.
The upper level of the stable features two open, two-story lofts, and Wells said parking for those condominiums was available at the rear of the building. One of those lofts will be offered for short-term rentals, while the other will be leased long-term, Wells said.
Council member Ehlinger favored tabling the site plan amendment in order to discuss the parking situation, but it was pointed out that other businesses in the downtown area (most notably and recently, Big Grove Brewery) were not required to provide off-street parking for customers. “I think it’s an issue, but I don’t think it’s fair to Mr. Wells to stop his business because we need to address our issue,” Stange said.
Wells indicated he hopes to host an open house for the facility in mid-October. He can be contacted at 319-400-2908 for more information.