Janesville could buy downtown building for parking

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Marcia Nelesen
Wednesday, May 14, 2014

JANESVILLE—Janesville Councilman Douglas Marklein said Tuesday he hopes a decision to keep negotiating to buy a former restaurant on River Street for eventual parking would spark private investment downtown.

Some say the downtown area has parking issues. Repeated studies, however, show parking is adequate, even though in some cases it is not as close to commerce as people might want it to be.

In addition, the city soon will remove the downtown parking plaza over the Rock River, eliminating about 200 parking spots.

The property at 14-24 S. River St., the former Krause's Town & Country restaurant, is across the street from the former Plaza Furniture store at 55 S. River St., which the city also owns and would demolish.

The property at 14-24 S. River St., which has been the site of several failed businesses in the last few years, is now in foreclosure.

The city's 2007 downtown vision plan identified the property as a location for public parking, with an estimated 85 to 90 spaces per level.

It would adjoin to a second lot on Dodge Street that offers 44 stalls.

The property is near the first two blocks of West Milwaukee Street and the first block of South Main Street, which economic development coordinator Ryan Garcia says is “arguably among the most well-kept, well-occupied and vibrant blocks of our downtown and for all intents and purposes the core of our city's downtown."

The property also is across the street from an area along the river often mentioned as a future town square.

First Community Bank of Milton bought the property in February at a sheriff's sale for $325,000.

In February, the council directed staff to negotiate a price up to $150,000. An initial appraisal valued the property at $240,000, but the bank increased the asking price to $330,000 when a restaurant and bar moved into the first floor.

The current price most recently stood at $275,000, and negotiations stalled.

On May 9, the seller told city staff that two private parties are interested in the property and are offering bids in the range of the asking price.

Garcia said the council could simply wait and hope someone buys and renovates the building. But businesses have had poor track records at the site, and the building could also continue to deteriorate.

Money to buy the building and build the parking could come from a nearby TIF district.

Building another 45 stalls could cost about $112,500 while a parking structure with 150 parking stalls could cost $3.3 million.

Demolition costs of $145,00 would have to come from another sources since the building is a contributing structure in the West Milwaukee Street Historic District and is recognized on the State Register of Historic Places.

State law requires the city to relocate the tenants and all businesses except for the bar—which has not been open long enough to quality for relocation—even though all have monthly leases.

Councilman Sam Liebert suggested the city pay for that business to relocate, as well.

City Manager Mark Freitag warned the perception that parking does not exist downtown might not necessarily change when more parking is built.

Freitag added that demolishing the building might draw the same people who have rallied to save the Oak Hill Cemetery chapel and a historic gas station, both of which city staff has tried several times to tear down.

“They'll be out in force not to take that down,” Freitag predicted.

The council unanimously authorized staff to resume negotiations with the property seller, marking a top price at $275,000.

“I think this shows we're taking the steps as a community to move forward,” councilman Matt Kealy said.

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