- Associated Press - Saturday, November 22, 2014

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) - With the sun peeking over the horizon, a half-dozen people ambled into the Work & Church Booze Parlor and took a seat at the bar or a table.

One by one, a bartender served them cold beers as the aroma of freshly popped popcorn filled the small room.

Unlike most bars, Work & Church opens at 6 a.m. each day, catering to workers as they leave their overnight shifts at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, located just across the street.

“It’s like their happy hour,” co-owner Mac Dolan told the Sioux City Journal (https://bit.ly/1xWPFGf ).

Work & Church - the unusual name was inspired by an expression Dolan’s father was fond of saying - opened in late July, just days before the Hard Rock made its flashy debut. The $128 million Hard Rock complex, which incorporates the renovated Battery Building at Third and Water Streets, employs 500 and attracts thousands of visitors seven days a week.

All those additional people downtown have generated lots of new customers for bars like Work & Church and shops, restaurants and other attractions in the Historic Pearl District. The casino venue is also building momentum for even more redevelopment, including the historic district’s first market-rate housing units.

In the past few years, the multi-block Pearl district has been transformed from one of the most blighted areas of downtown into a vibrant commercial hub.

“If you think back to what it used to be, there was so many vacant buildings,” said Jill Wanderscheid, the city’s neighborhood services director. “Now, there’s a lot of life on the street.”

A plethora of new bars, restaurants, retail shops and professional offices have popped up along the corridor. A number of existing businesses also have modernized their storefronts with help from a city grant program, Wanderscheid said.

New additions in the Pearl corridor also include some big-ticket noncommercial attractions.

To the north, Bishop Heelan High School opened its $15 million fine arts building at 1531 Grandview Blvd. in August, just across from its current campus. A second phase of expansion calls for construction of a new high school and gymnasium next to the fine arts building.

This fall, ground was broken on the Children’s Museum of Siouxland. The $7 million project, financed largely with private donations, will be built at the site of a former auto dealership at 623 Pearl St.

In a major public works project, the city also repaved Pearl from Third Street to Seventh Street and installed new utilities. In addition, city funds paid for colored concrete, decorative street lamps and traffic lights, trees and landscaping.

Rick Bertrand, a local businessman and developer, was the architect of Pearl Street’s revival. Starting in 2010, his Alleycat Holdings company extensively rehabilitated a series of dilapidated buildings dating to the 1910s.

In four adjoining structures in the 400 block of Pearl, he now operates three bars, all with distinctive themes - McCarthy & Bailey’s Irish Pub, Pearl’s Wine & Booze, and Blue Ribbon Tap - as well as a banquet and party room, called The Big Snug.

Bertrand is now building six condo-like units above the Irish pub building at 423 Pearl St. Expected to open next spring, the units - with 1,000 square feet of living space, two bedrooms and two baths - will rent for $850 monthly, he said.

A similar housing project is in the works just up the street at 501 Pearl St. It’s being put together by Matt Mullen, a Vermillion, South Dakota, developer who struck a deal with Bertrand for the structure, known as the Malone building.

Bertrand said almost any building with upper unoccupied floors in the Historic Pearl District is a candidate for a housing project.

“There are a lot more people who are willing to pull the trigger on capital investments,” said Bertrand, who also represents Sioux City in the state Senate. “I’m excited to see other players come in, make an investment and make the neighborhood better.”

Besides helping to fill a growing demand for downtown living, Bertrand said, the condos should appeal to some Hard Rock personnel, who would like the convenience of walking to work.

During the casino’s first 3 1/2 months of operation, casino workers and visitors alike are venturing up Pearl a block or two to check out various other businesses.

Lori Stekle, who owns Funkalicious Boutique, said shoppers from as far away as Norway have stopped by her designer apparel shop at 409 Pearl St. after visiting the casino.

The increased foot traffic persuaded her to expand her hours to seven days a week.

“The husbands may come in to gamble, but the wives come in to shop,” Stekle said. “It’s been happening all the time.”

Bertrand said lunches at McCarthy & Bailey’s, which he was forced to shut down due to detours on Pearl Street during the Hard Rock construction, are now back up and running and busier than ever. The Irish pub and his two other bars also have become popular gathering places for casino-goers, particularly on nights when the Hard Rock has live entertainment.

“What we’re finding out is that we’re becoming a destination before the show,” he said. “And we’re kind of the finish after the show.”

Both the early morning and late night traffic from the Hard Rock have been a boon for the Work & Church.

Dolan, a veteran nightclub operator, and his business partner, Chad Ferris, purchased the building at 215 Fourth St. primarily because of its close proximity to the Hard Rock. They extensively renovated the 1,100-square-foot space, which has a capacity of about 30. The decor includes a large collection of old license plates on one wall.

As many as a dozen or so Hard Rock workers stop in during the early morning hours after getting off work, he said.

The Work & Church space was previously Bergie’s Bar. Rick Fowler and Jolene Madison, who have operated the landmark bar for 24 years, recently relocated it just down the street to a renovated space that is more than three times larger.

Bergie’s new location, at 201 Fourth St., covers part of three buildings. It’s plenty big enough to fulfill Fowler’s longtime goal of having two billiards tables for a large pool league.

Even before the renovation work on Bergie’s interior was completed, the owners, after getting a permit from the city, set up outdoor seats and tables on the sidewalk for the Hard Rock’s first outdoor concert, headlined by the rock groups Goo Goo Dolls and Daughtry.

Fowler said he is also considering adding rooftop seating to give his customers a bird’s eye view of the Hard Rock’s outdoor venue, known as the Back Yard.

“I asked the architect if it was doable and he said, ‘Oh, yeah,’ ” he said.

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Information from: Sioux City Journal, https://www.siouxcityjournal.com


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