Council members suggest city be role model for others

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Marcia Nelesen
Tuesday, April 29, 2014

JANESVILLE--Janesville City Manager Mark Freitag said Monday the city should be a role model for other property owners and remove blight by tearing down the run-down historic gas station across from City Hall.

But Councilman Matt Kealy countered the city could be just as effective a role model by fixing up the property or, better, yet, never letting it get into disrepair.

Council members voted 6 to 1 to give residents who want to save the building until Sept. 1 to work with city staff and submit a plan. Kealy added an amendment to the motion that would put $35,000 in TIF money into repairs rather than demolition.

The building was purchased by the city for eventual expansion of the police department, possibly in 10 to 15 years.

But some residents have repeatedly rallied to save the gas station from demolition.

In 2012, council directed staff to return to the council with possible ideas for reusing the building.

That was problematic: the city would not repair the building, and interested tenants were reluctant to sink their own money into the structure.

Councilman Jim Farrell said Monday he has been disappointed staff never returned to the council with reuse ideas.

Recently, though, resident Richard Snyder presented a business plan, and Snyder offered to do some of the work on the building himself.

Staff not only rejected the plan: they went to the council Monday to tell members of staff's plans to tear the building down.

Residents who formed a committee to save the building did not find out about staff's intentions until Friday.

Gale Price, building and development services manager, said the city should be good stewards of taxpayer money and refrain form spending money on a building that will eventually be torn down.

Freitag said the building is in the way of the best expansion options for the police station.

In addition, the city is trying to move the downtown forward, Freitag said.

“An old, run-down broken building does not present the (best) image in regards to our downtown,” he said.

The city must act as a role model and remove its own blight before Freitag said he could ask others to fix their own facades.

Kealy, though, suggested the city act as a role model by fixing its buildings.

The city is charging downtown property owners with doing something with their buildings, and it is asking them to do more than just green space, Kealy said.

“What could we do with it ourselves to be a positive role model?” he asked.

Other owners of historic properties in Janesville see returns on their investments, Kealy said.

“The community support is there.”

Space could likely be found across the street in City Hall if the police station expands, he said.

Councilman Douglas Marklein agreed.

“The role model thing goes both ways,” he said, adding the city is sending a positive message by taking the lead to encourage people to fix their buildings.

He asked residents to surprise him again: he said he didn't think residents would be able to save the historic chapel in Oak Hill Cemetery after city staff recommended demolition. Residents did, he said.

The gas station could become a “shining example” of what could happen when private residents and the city work together, he said.

If the project is successful, the city could think again before it expands the police station in that direction, Marklein said.

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