City of Janesville, developer at odds

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Friday, September 18, 2009
— The latest installment in a feud between the city and property owner Jim Grafft includes fresh concerns over the Monterey Hotel and a raft of code violations at a Grafft-owned building on the city’s south side.

The city on Wednesday sent Grafft an “order to correct” four violations at the vacant hotel in downtown Janesville that’s considered a key property in downtown redevelopment efforts.

The city says the violations target broken windows, piles of building materials and other trash and a leaking roof that already has caused one ceiling to collapse in the six-story building.

Grafft said he’s become a favorite target for city officials and that he’s spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years battling the city.

“You ought to do an open records request on the money they’ve spent on special prosecutors to go after me,” he said.

Grafft bought the hotel in 1996 at a bankruptcy auction. He said architectural studies are under way, and he plans to convert the building into a mixed residential and commercial space.

After opening in 1930, the hotel hosted some familiar names, including Louis Armstrong, Eleanor Roosevelt and Sen. John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie. The hotel has stood empty for years, frustrating those who hate to see a beautiful structure waste away and those who think it could be a major asset in downtown revitalization.

“The city is very concerned about the continued dilapidation of the structure and wants to ensure that this important piece of architectural history is preserved for years to come,” Gale Price, the city’s manager of building and development services, wrote in a letter to Grafft.

In the order, Price noted Grafft has been parking a gas-powered scooter in the hotel lobby, which violates building codes that say parking areas must be separated from other occupied spaces.

“I’ve been parking that there for four years,” Grafft said. “When it’s topped off, it probably holds a gallon of gas, and they’re worried that could create some sort of inferno.”

Grafft said the scooter issue is an example of the petty nonsense the city has put him through for years.

The city on Wednesday also issued an order for Grafft’s adjoining property at 319 W. Milwaukee St., the front of the former Jeffris Theater. Two years ago, the city and Grafft butted heads over the demolition of a portion of the theater building.

In June, the city filed 15 ordinance violations against Grafft for a property he owns at 1029 S. Jackson St. The city alleges materials are stacked so high they interfere with the sprinkler system.

The cases are making their way through Rock County Court.

Grafft said he’s attended several meetings on the alleged problems on Jackson Street, and what the city’s fire marshal really wants is a new sprinkler system that Grafft says isn’t necessary.

The city and Grafft have had issues over many of the buildings he owns in Janesville. Most of the problems, Grafft said, can be traced to a personality difference with city officials, some of whom, he said, aren’t competent in their jobs.

“I’ve hired 30 to 40 people in the past six months, and I recently bought properties in Fond du Lac, Oshkosh and Neenah, and I’m working on buying one in Indiana,” Grafft said.

“Why screw around in this town where absolutely everything is a problem?”

Grafft specializes in buying old properties and developing them for different uses. He said city officials interpret codes, and they become gospel without room for other interpretations.

City officials said they will let the code violations speak for themselves.

Grafft has until Tuesday, Oct. 20, to resolve the alleged violations at the hotel and adjoining property. He faces fines for any violations not resolved by that deadline.

Last updated: 11:21 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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