This building on North Court Avenue in Marengo is slated to become a restaurant and Airbnb with the help of grant funding from the Iowa Economic Development Authority. (Winona Whitaker/Hometown)

MARENGO — An empty building in downtown Marengo will become an Airbnb with a restaurant on the first floor thanks to a stimulus and remediation grant from the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

The Catalyst Grant was created to help redevelop or rehabilitate underutilized buildings to stimulate economic growth. Ben and Bobbi Miller, with the help of MarenGo Community Development and the City of Marengo, secured $100,000 to renovate the building at 1159 Court Avenue.

The renovations will preserve the historic characteristics and integrity of the building, as required by the grant criteria.

“The grant has to be generated through the city,” Marengo City Manager Carla Mark said.

“In the last four years or so, we’ve focused locally on economic development,” Mark said. “We’re really trying to focus (on) moving forward.”

Millers and MarenGo provided documents and information for the application.

“Basically, they had to have a design,” said Corinne Daly, MarenGo program manager. “For the Catalyst grant, they don’t need an architect.

Iowa Economic Development wants to use the buildings receiving incentive grants as they were originally, Daly said. The original windows must be windows. They cannot be filled as walls.

IEDA wants to restore the original storefronts, making the buildings look as much as possible as they did when they were built, Daly said.

The Millers purchased the Court Avenue building, hired a contractor and submitted a written proposal explaining what they would do with the building and how they would achieve their goals.

Daly, a licensed contractor, used her software application to create images of the design proposed by the Millers. She also provided pictures of what the building looks like now.

The Catalyst Scholarship requires the recipient to match funds. The Millers and the city will have to find the extra money.

MarenGo has a verbal agreement with a restaurant in the basement of the Miller Building, but nothing was signed until last week, Daly said.

In pursuing new business, MarenGo works with owners of vacant buildings that may fit the company’s needs. “If it was for rent, it would provide a place for someone to come,” Daly said.

According to Daly, MarenGo filled seven spaces downtown last year. “I’m just putting pressure on landlords and landlords to fill their spaces,” Daly said. “It’s not good for anyone to remain vacant.”

Bringing in new businesses to fill vacant spaces is good for the entire community, Daly said.

“This is the first (Catalyst grant) we’ve received. We definitely want to stay on board next year,” Daly said.

“We plan to look for sponsors for the next trip,” Mark said.

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