Janesville real estate developer buys former Chase Bank property

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Neil Johnson
Wednesday, November 29, 2017

JANESVILLEThe former Chase Bank building in downtown Janesville has sold to a local real estate developer, who says his group plans to ready the property for lease as soon as possible.

Jim Johnson, managing partner of Janesville real estate holding and developing company Johnson-Ryan Partnership, confirmed Tuesday that his group bought the former Chase Bank at 100 W. Milwaukee St. earlier this month.

Johnson said his group paid cash for the vacant 24,000-square-foot building with the stone and marble façade and its 1½-acre lot.

He wouldn't comment on the sale price. Property transfer records at the Rock County Register of Deeds Office show the property sold Nov. 2 for $530,000.

Johnson, a Janesville native, said his family-owned company is now combing through the property's back history, cleaning out the interior and working with local officials on a plan to relaunch the building for tenancy.

He said the group's first choice would be to reuse the building, which is one of the largest commercial structures downtown.

The building has potential as space for “one or two” large-scale tenants, Johnson said.

He said reuse options are “wide open” at this point, and Johnson-Ryan Partnership intends to build out the interior to set the table for a viable tenant. It's being listed now for lease through Janesville company Badertscher Commercial Real Estate.

One thing is clear: A new tenant would not be another financial institution.

Because of a deed restriction in the sale, the building can't be reused as a bank. Johnson said the western annex, which once was used as a drive-through and teller windows, will be demolished and removed.

JPMorgan Chase closed the downtown bank in late 2016 as part of a nationwide branch consolidation plan and merged operations at a Chase branch on Arch Street on the west side.

Chase had been trying to sell the property since late last year.

In an August 2017 story, The Gazette identified the Chase Bank as one of 37 vacant commercial storefronts in the downtown area.

The property is located within a block of the South River Street area where the city launched the first phases of ARISE—a multiyear, public-private revitalization project focused on the downtown riverfront.

It's also adjacent to a lot on the north side of West Milwaukee Street where another developer plans to build a hotel, possibly as soon as 2018.

Johnson called the property a “prime location” near the center of downtown. He said his group has had discussions with economic development officials from Janesville and Rock County on plans for the parcel.

Johnson said recent efforts to revive the downtown were part of what drew his group to buy the defunct bank property.

He said his group is interested in a plan that could gel with the ARISE plan.

“We're very supportive of what's going on in downtown and excited to be a part of that,” Johnson said.

Janesville Economic Development Director Gale Price on Tuesday agreed with Johnson's assessment that reusing the former Chase Bank property is central to revitalization downtown.

Price characterized the property as one of a few "projects" the city is interested in seeing get launched in coming months.

Johnson said it's unlikely his group will split the building's interior into smaller office spaces. He said the goal is to find one or two tenants.

The group also prefers to reuse the building rather than razing it. He called the building “solid” and said he appreciates its long history downtown.

Still, the group wants to find tenants soon.

“It's a gamble in that we're taking on an empty building. It's maintenance and upkeep. We don't want to be sitting on it too long without developing it,” Johnson said.

In the near term, the private parking lot on the building's west side will be blocked off. Johnson said it has been used as a public lot for years, but it's actually always been a private lot, and insurers are concerned about liability while the building is vacant.

Johnson said the closure of that lot and the pending hotel development next door illustrate an emerging need the city might have to address soon.

“It brings to light the fact that the city needs to make some considerations about parking on the west side of the river,” he said.

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