Davenport Wonder Bread factory empty amid changing plans

DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) — For more than eight years, redevelopment plans have changed and changed again for a high-profile and historic Davenport property — the former Hostess plant, commonly called the Twinkie Factory.

The plant and warehouse span nearly a full block along East River Drive and once employed hundreds of Quad-Citians. Twinkies never were made there.

The building contained a distribution center for the line of Hostess snacks, but production primarily was Wonder Bread. Little proof has survived that more than 600,000 pounds of bread and bun dough were produced every week at the Continental Bakery.

The bakery closed in 2005, but the building remained a distribution hub until 2010.

Shortly after developer and home builder Dan Dolan bought the property for $375,000 in 2013, he dubbed it Continental Lofts. His plan was to follow the popular market trend of a mixed-use property that put retail stores on the first floor and apartments in the upper floors.

Those plans have evolved over eight years. Still, the Quad-City Times reports the old Wonder plant remains vacant and dormant.

Late last year, Dolan announced that he and his family were partnering with Des Moines-based developer Frank Levy (Newbury Living) and his family on a new iteration: The Continental Lofts & Tower.

Dolan’s $15 million plan from 2015 blossomed into a $31 million plan in 2020 and added a new eight-story tower onto the west end of the property.

Levy and Dolan said they were designing luxury units aimed more at empty-nesters than previous targets of young people seeking warehouse-chic downtown living.

The pair said they expected to begin construction last spring and finish by spring of 2022.

But the pandemic, including the massive hikes in building-material costs that came with it, have once again interrupted plans for the Twinkie Factory.

“We are still moving forward and in fact are having good success with (lease) reservations,” Levy wrote in an Aug. 12 email. “The pandemic and ensuing commodity price spikes have added to the delays, but we believe the costs have stabilized, and we are making a big push to finalize our financing.”

Neither Levy nor Dolan responded to follow-up questions seeking details, including the new timeline and funding plans.

In December, they suggested a financing plan was in place, which included a combination of sources.

“The various tax-credit proceeds are about $5.5 million; we’re raising an equal amount between us and our investors, and we’ll have $20 million in debt,” Levy said in December. “Dan already owns the building, and we will increase the equity to begin construction in the spring.”

Davenport’s third-ward alderman, Marion Meginnis, who is vastly familiar with the historic tax-credit process, said she has not been updated on the development team’s latest plans or progress but said they must reapply for some of the historic-tax credits.

“That building received historic tax credits, but those have to be used within a certain amount of time,” she said Friday. “I would be shocked if he (Dolan) didn’t have to surrender them.

“That project seems to me to be way, way, way past where he would get those tax credits. He could reapply. Again, though: It’s very competitive.”

The fact new construction is planned on the site also will alter the property’s ability to qualify for state and federal programs, she said.

“My concern about sites like this is that whatever the plans are, they have to conform to what is allowed or approved,” Meginnis said. “There were no plans or requests submitted to the city when I asked.

“My other concern always is, if it’s not occupied, a property should be kept orderly. Sometimes, I go by there, and it doesn’t look so good.”

Meginnis said she can sympathize with Dolan and Levy, because she is familiar with the economic damage wrought by COVID-19. Also, the process of landing state and federal funding is cumbersome, competitive and limited in availability.

“Mr. Levy is exactly right about building materials,” she said. “The costs have absolutely skyrocketed.”