Former Rock County Appliance building could become banquet hall

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Neil Johnson
Monday, July 21, 2014

JANESVILLE—If a developer's plan moves forward, a vacant building downtown that once housed a church, a Masonic lodge—and most recently, an appliance store—could become an event and banquet center.

Janesville-based Certified Parts Corporation says it plans to renovate the second and third floors of the former Rock County Appliance building at 38 S. Main St. and put a three-story addition onto the building's west side.

Britten Grafft, vice president of Certified Parts, says the addition would include a grand entrance, an elevator, stairs and second-and-third-floor balconies that would wrap around part of the building's south and west sides, which face the Rock River and the current parking plaza.

Grafft said renovations would turn four large areas on the existing second and third floors—a former church sanctuary with an open third floor—into a banquet hall-style space for weddings, plays and other events.

“We came up with the idea early this year, when we realized there was a complete lack of local, non-religious spaces that are historically set up as churches,” Grafft said.

The building, which is at the corner of South Main and Court Streets, housed Rock County Appliance for 40 years until the company closed in 2013. Certified Parts bought the building last December.

A church-like banquet hall may sound niche, but Grafft says she sees a bigger picture: A reboot of the old building will mesh with the city of Janesville's ongoing downtown riverfront revitalization plans.

“We wanted to embrace the riverfront revitalization vision. This could be an excellent catalyst for all the city looks to do downtown” Grafft said. “To have a space like this would meld perfectly with big city capital initiatives downtown—the city's riverfront and town square plan. It could really be a space embraced.”

Grafft said her group plans to have the building renovated and running as a banquet hall by June 2015, with future retail use planned in the building's ground-floor storefront.

Certified Parts plans the project to be self-funded and offset by federal and state historical tax credits.

Certified Parts likely will submit construction plans and file building permit requests in early August. The group is seeking an easement required on the building's west side to accommodate six-foot-deep balconies that would hang partially over the right-of-way.

The balconies would be part of the addition, which would replace a current loading dock on the west side, according to preliminary site plans the group has submitted to city planners.

From about 1906 to 1965, the building's second and third floors housed a Masonic lodge. Prior to that, from 1868 until about 1905, the building was home to a Methodist church.

The building's third and fourth floors have been vacant and sealed off from the rest of the building since 1965, but the building has federal, state and local designations as a historic place, Grafft said.

Gazette file photos show some peeling paint and cracked plaster, but Grafft says the upper floors are still in good shape structurally. The building's large, Florentine patterned glass windows have been boarded up in recent years, but Grafft said they're mostly intact.

Renovations would include a sprinkler system, and that would limit the amount of structural changes the second and third floors would need to have, Grafft said.

The city's plan commission on Monday voted unanimously to recommend the city council allow easements for planned balconies.

At that meeting, plan commission member George Brunner said he thought the Graffts' plan sounded “exciting,” but he pressed Grafft for a timeline.

“When can we expect to see some activity and action?” he said.

Certified Parts owns other city landmarks, most notably the Monterey Hotel, an iconic, 1920s Art Deco building at Milwaukee and High streets west of the river.

The Graffts have been slow to move on their plans to redevelop that property into apartments. Grafft said Monday that the Monterey Hotel project is still a “priority,” but it won't move forward until her company and the city of Janesville reach a public-private agreement on private, secure tenant parking near the hotel, which she called “vital to that project's success.”

When asked by The Gazette if progress on the emerging banquet hall could slow or halt similar work at the Monterey, Grafft was curt.

“This one we're putting on the fast track,” she said. “It's on a much more manageable scale economically, for the here and now, than the Monterey Hotel.”

She said her group is ready to set its sights on the riverfront area at the same time the city is focusing efforts there.

“This is the core area where there is significant public investment occurring. And it would be in our best interests to take advantage of it at this time,” Grafft said. “The concentration is here, by the river, by this designated town square area. We're turning toward the river.”

Last updated: 9:15 pm Monday, July 21, 2014

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