Janesville37.1°

Downtown Elkhorn links future to past

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Carla McCann
October 7, 2007
— Visual stories of Elkhorn’s journey from a village into a city can be found in the beauty of the historic brick buildings lining downtown streets.

On the corner of Broad and Walworth streets, the municipal building built in 1931 still anchors the block.


The red brick charm of an 1858 building is a bookend for the other end of the block.


On Wisconsin Street stand the statuesque pillars and front wall of the former 1865 First National Bank. Although that building was razed, the front was preserved and now serves as a park entrance.


In between and on adjoining blocks, however, are other buildings that are not so attractive.


It’s a similar story on other blocks, where empty storefronts and buildings needing repair stand dark and quiet among their renovated neighbors.


One of the city’s goals is to recapture more of its lost history by offering grants of up to $7,500 to store owners for facade improvements that will help restore the downtown’s original beauty, said Julie Taylor, a member of the city council and historic preservation commission.


The program is being funded through one of the city’s tax increment financing districts, City Administrator Sam Tapson said.


The city has $50,000 in this year’s budget for the grants, and the same amount is included in the proposed 2008 budget, Tapson said.


“It (the grant program) was a little slow getting started, but more businesses have come on board in the past couple of years,” Tapson said.


To date, the city has approved 17 grant applications, Taylor said.


Ten of those projects, including the red brick building that now houses the “Somewhere Else” restaurant on the corner of Walworth and Wisconsin streets, are completed. Two grants are being processed, and five have been approved but the projects haven’t yet begun, Taylor said.


“J. Roberts Fine Men’s Apparel Big and Tall” is housed in one of the refurbished downtown buildings. Located on Wisconsin Street a short distance from the restaurant, the clothing store has been the most substantial project undertaken by storeowners, Taylor said.


The grant was motivation for Jim and Marilyn Schoberg, the owners and operators of the men’s apparel store, to undertake the construction project, said Terry Ketchpaw, a sales associate at the store.


Although the cost of refurbishing the J. Roberts store far exceeded the grant, the grant served as a catalyst for other property owners to make facade improvements, said Tapson said.


The emphasis is on appropriateness, such as whether the design is compatible with the rest of the area, Tapson said.


The grants don’t require storeowners to restore a building to precise historical qualifications. That can be costly, Tapson said.


Elkhorn’s goal is to secure the downtown’s future by preserving and reclaiming its historic past.



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