A downtown developer has swung a deal and will be taking over the Daviess County Economic Development building, also known as the old J.C. Penny building, in downtown Washington. Dusty Davis, who has renovated and repurposed a number of downtown buildings over the last several years, has reached an agreement with the Daviess County Economic Development Foundation to buy the building.
Davis says the deal actually sprung out of an effort by the EDC to market the former German American Bank Building at the other end of the block.
“It’s been a six month process,” said Davis. “EDC reached out to me about the German American Bank building to see if there was any interest. For what I do, it didn’t make sense.”
But during that time Davis said he began taking a closer look at the current EDC office building and that got his attention.
“It has an openness,” said Davis. “It’s got more framing and less masonry. For what I do, it is easier to manipulate.”
Davis also pointed out the building has a lot of its original character.
“I like that it is very original,” he said. “I like the stamped ceilings, the high ceilings, the crown molding. Any work that has been done to it has kept a lot of the integrity of the building — things I would probably keep. Plus there is the location, right downtown.”
Perhaps though the biggest selling point was a place very few people have seen, the third floor.
“This third floor, I fell in love with it,” he said. “It is all exposed beams and brick, big high ceilings and windows that look out over downtown.”
Davis has some big plans for that third floor.
“My plan is to take the third floor and make it a banquet hall area for rentals and wedding receptions,” said Davis. “There appears to be a real need for that kind of space not only in Washington but in Daviess County.”
To make that third floor viable though will require putting in an elevator and a new fire-proof stairwell.
“That will be the first thing we will do when we get the building,” said Davis.
The third floor remake will also include new restrooms and food preparation areas. Davis plans for now to leave the first and second floors as is.
“I have some ideas for the rest of the building but I am not ready to talk about those for now.”
Economic Development officials say the plan is one that fits with their mission for development of the community.
“We are really excited to partner with Dusty because of what he has been able to do with the buildings downtown and transforming them,” said Bryant Niehoff, executive director for Daviess County Economic Development Corporation. “As the Economic Development Corporation, we are very supportive because you have to have a strong downtown. It shows a strong community, which helps us in a number of ways — from a business attraction standpoint, from a business retention standpoint or workforce attraction. Whatever it might be, you need a strong downtown.”
Even though the EDC is selling its building, it is staying on Main Street. Now the plan is to relocate the offices to the second floor of the German American building, which the organization also owns.
“It was a natural connection,” said Niehoff. “We are always looking for ways to add to the vibrancy of the community. The German American Bank is an icon in the community. We have kicked around strategies for years for the best way to utilize that. Since most of our business is by appointment, we don’t need a store front. We can be on the second floor of the German American Bank building.”
That is where the EDC is heading. The CEO program that formerly met in the EDC building has already relocated there. Officials are hoping to begin renovations to the remainder of the second floor in a few months and have the new office open by the first of the year.
“The sale made sense and it got us to thinking in a different direction,” said Niehoff. “We could now leverage some investment into the building adding to the vibrancy of downtown.”
By moving and redirecting its efforts into the bank and with Davis’ plans for the former offices, EDC officials feel they are taking a number of steps to make downtown and the entire community of Washington better.
“Our board said the German American building just cannot sit there,” said Niehoff. “Something has to be done. There has to be activity and it just made sense for us to do it ourselves. Since word got out about our moving there, we have had an influx of calls from people wanting to take a look at that space. We are excited about that.”
Davis agrees that the combination of projects is the kind of thing that can help keep downtown Washington alive.
“Downtown is the heart of our community,” he said. “You need to keep those buildings active and alive. The more people we can have downtown operating out of these buildings the better.”
“From quality of place and workforce attraction this is going to check off the boxes,” added Niehoff. “We’re incredibly excited about the changes coming here.”