Bringing Kings Hall back to life: partners revitalize historic opera house | Independence Bulletin Journal

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The new owners of Kings Hall, the 20,000 square foot building that towers over First Street in downtown Independence, have touched every inch of the 6,300 square foot ground floor since its purchase in October 2020.

“You name it, and we hit it,” said co-owner Shelly Whited.

She, along with her husband Nate, business partners Andy and Tonya Higgins, as well as many family members and friends, invested a lot of money in renovating the building.

The historic structure, located at 330 1{sup}st{/sup} St. E in Independence, had long been on the market.

“Kings Hall is this massive building that towers over Main Street,” Nate said. “It had been very underused for as long as anyone could remember.

“A large sign for sale had been in place for at least seven or eight years,” he continued. “Everybody in town wanted to buy it, and everybody wanted to do something with it, and nobody did.”

A friend of theirs, Andy Higgins, owner of Circle 8 Cyclery in Independence, was one of those who had his eye on the building.

“I was in talks with Freddy Miller (the previous owner) for two or three years,” Andy said.

He liked the building and wanted to set up his bike shop there. Unfortunately, the price was beyond his budget.

Then the Miller family decided it was really time to sell, and Andy made another offer.

“Honestly, I still couldn’t afford it,” he said, “but I had other options, other people who could pitch in with me.”

Andy learned that the Whiteds also wanted to open a construction business and they considered joining forces.

“We loved the building,” Nate said. “He had so much potential. But talking about something is one thing. Putting your money where your mouth is is another. We had to do more research before we jumped in and bought the building with him.

Nate and Shelly did their due diligence, including researching the type of business they wanted to open.

“And we ended up buying it,” Nate said. “It’s an awesome building.”

The two couples – Andy and Tonya, Nate and Shelly – formed a business partnership, STAN Development, LLC. They closed the sale of Kings Hall on October 29, 2020.

“That night we started tearing down walls,” Shelly said.

After an intense period of renovation which eventually included new walls, replacement of part of the floor, all new wiring, exposure of bricks, painting, varnishing, updating the bathroom and installation of new furnaces for the ground floor, Andy opened Circle 8 Cyclery in the front portion of the building in early March 2021.

“I originally thought it would be open on January 1,” he said with a laugh. “After digging, we saw that there really was a lot more to do than we thought. And I’m still working on it.”

The Brick Kitchen opened at the rear of the building in May 2021.

Kings Hall, built in 1876, according to the date raised on its front wall, holds a special place in Independence.

“The building itself is one of the most iconic in the city,” Nate said. “The whole town center is kind of bounded at one end by the mill and at the other by Kings Hall.”

“It was built like an opera house with 25-foot ceilings,” Shelly said. “Most of our store was the opera stage. There was a round ceiling above the stage and a beautiful mural that someone from Chicago came to paint.

According to Andy, over the years the building has also housed many other businesses, including a chicken hatchery, grocery warehouse, roller rink, refrigeration business and antique store.

“In the 1950s they built a second story,” Nate said. “If you stand in our store and look up, there’s masonry above you, because the second floor is all brick and concrete.”

Shelly noted that during their renovations they removed the plaster from the walls and painted the beams.

All that exposed brick – in the walls, on the ceiling – is what led them to name their store The Brick Kitchen.

The many upgrades to the old structure wouldn’t come cheap. Because of this, Shelly pursued grants, also meeting with Buchanan County Economic Development Director Lisa Kramer and Chamber Director Nikki Barth to learn more about grant opportunities.

Last June, STAN Development received a $100,000 Catalyst grant from Iowa State Economic Development, which was matched with $100,000 in in-kind grants from the city.

This alleviated some of the investment burden and allowed the owners to re-key the exterior brickwork, purchase all new windows (delivered and waiting to be installed), add new gutters, repair the roof, to add central air to the ground floor and to complete the improvements in part of the basement.

With both businesses on the main level, the multi-story building still had room to spare.

Now part of the basement is used by Allerton Brewing Company, but the entire second floor is still open. Any additional use will require careful consideration.

“We all think that with ownership of this building comes some responsibility,” Nate said. “We are so lucky to be part of his story.”

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