‘I don’t know where to go,’ residents and business owners fight after Sioux City condemns 100-year-old Argonauts Apartments

SIOUX CITY — Standing outside the downtown Argonaut Apartments in 32-degree weather Thursday afternoon, resident Adam Asir couldn’t help but repeat one phrase.

“So bad. So bad,” he said softly as he held his mail under one arm.

A worker at Kemps in Le Mars, Iowa, Asir moved into the century-old apartment building about nine months ago after previously living in Nebraska. Its stay at 519-25 11th St. expires Friday — Sioux City officials on Wednesday declared the Argonaut uninhabitable.

“The heater isn’t working,” Asir said. “It’s too cold.”

The Argonaut apartment building, 1103 Nebraska St., is shown Thursday. The city inspectors marked the building in red as uninhabitable and ar…

Sioux City Code Enforcement Manager Darrell Bullock said the heating problems at the Argonaut were due to a malfunctioning boiler.

“This has been an issue for several months,” Bullock said in a phone call Thursday.

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Bullock said the city was told 22 people live in 30 apartments in the four-story brick building, plus two first-floor business occupants, Little Nikki’s Tattoo Parlor and a woodworking shop.

“There are many problems with the housing shortage, but (heat) is the main reason,” he added.

George Owings, the owner of the tattoo shop, said the problems with the boiler date back even further.

“It’s been an ongoing struggle,” he said. “(But) we were able to compensate with radiators or heaters and stuff.”

When Owings moved in 13 years ago, he said the space was a “dump” and that he needed to put in a lot of work to get it ready for business.

Once it was more established, Owings said things were fine until about a year ago, in April 2022, when the Lucas Magdalene Trust sold the building to an organization called ITM LLC for $475,000. Less than a month later, ITM sold the property to Wave Investment Team INC of Provo, Utah, for $800,000, according to Woodbury County property records.

“They raised the rent. As soon as they took over, they raised the rent by $50. And they were really slow to fix it,” Owings said.

He said he was still being charged rent even though he told management he was moving out.

“I just didn’t respond to any of those emails,” Owings said.

Wave Investment partner Zach Magalei said Thursday that his company has spent thousands of dollars to restore the building to livable condition. An electrician even came by to check that the Argonaut circuit breaker had enough amperage for heaters in each unit. Magalei said he was told the setup would work.

The city has been in contact with the property management company responsible for Argonaut, Bullock said, “and has given them many opportunities to do the renovations.”

Magalei disputed the city’s cooperation and said that despite focusing on the issue throughout the day, it has gotten nowhere in its efforts to resolve the issues.

“It was an absolute dead end today,” he said. “No cooperation with the city … We’re just trying to get a simple answer.”

The Argonaut had only one code violation, Magalei said he was told.

The Argonaut apartment building, 1103 Nebraska St., is shown Thursday. The city inspectors marked the building in red as uninhabitable and ar…

In addition to the rent increase, Owings said Argonaut has developed a noticeable leakage problem.

“The radiators were leaking. The pipes were leaking. My little startup business there was flowing and destroying the wood,” Owings said. “The radiator was leaking so bad that they ended up shutting it off and taking it out of there, leaving me with no heat.”

Eventually, Owings had to close the Argonaut’s first-floor woodworking shop and sell $10,000 worth of tools for about $1,500.

It wasn’t always like that. The Argonaut opened in the summer of 1922, according to property records and contemporary news. In the 1920s, advertisements boasted “neatly furnished” and “exquisitely furnished” apartments for rent, with “the best accommodation” and an “excellent cafe” in the building.

“I called today and turned the phone off. The phone has been on for over 13 years,” Owings said.

His tentative plan is to head west to Tacoma, Washington and start over there in June. But the 59-year-old said it was hard to imagine opening another store on his own. Owings did have an apprentice, 21-year-old Jade Owings, who was going to take over at some point, but he said she realized she had no future in the tattoo shop.

“I’ve been through a lot of crap the last few months,” Owings said as she fought back tears. “My dad passed away on the 16th and, just, a bunch of stuff. So there’s just one more thing on top.”

While he worries about what’s next and what he’ll do for work, Owings is just as concerned about the people who lived above him in the building.

“It’s about the property management company not being willing to do what it takes to keep these people in housing. They weren’t going to spend the money,” Owings said.

His longtime patron and friend, Latessa Zinn, said she doesn’t understand why the city couldn’t have given residents more consideration.

“I don’t know if the city genuinely cares about the community if things are being run like this,” Zinn said. “The Red Cross is believed to have been assisting and the city had to bring officers to the field.” Where are they?”

The Argonaut apartment building, 1103 Nebraska St., is shown Thursday. The city inspectors marked the building in red as uninhabitable and ar…

Bullock said the city has “reached out (to the tenants) and given them all the information about the programs the city has for rapid rehousing.”

“It’s just a very unpleasant situation,” he said.

The biggest uncertainty for Amir is where he will live next.

“I don’t know where I can go,” he said, before raising the possibility of staying in his car temporarily.

Owings becomes angry when he considers what might happen to the inhabitants of Argonaut.

“There are people on fixed or super low incomes. And people who are mentally challenged or physically challenged, they just can’t sleep on the street, damn it,” Owings said. “It’s going to be eight degrees tonight. You know? Like, it’s just not right. It must be a village or community. There’s no community, you understand?’

Kim Scorza, executive director of the Crittenton Center, talked about the agency’s plans to build tiny homes to teach independent living skills to youth exiting the foster care system.

Tim Hinds

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