Janesville66.3°

Developer predicts three-year timetable for hotel transformation

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JAMES P. LEUTE
June 23, 2011
— What's going on with the Monterey Hotel?

Three people Monday asked the question of Jim Grafft, the owner of the downtown Janesville landmark.


"Apparently, there's a lot of interest," said Grafft, who bought the historic hotel at a bankruptcy auction in 1996.


The short answer, he said, is that he and his family are getting closer to the building's transformation into four floors of upper-end apartments anchored by a restaurant and offices on the first and second floors.


"I think it can still be done in the next three years," Grafft said.


Grafft is a patient developer, one with the financial wherewithal to invest in properties for the long haul.


After 15 years of ownership, he agrees that the Monterey project has redefined "long haul."


Over the years, he's undertaken several other demolition projects and occasionally has been sidetracked by confrontations with city officials over building codes.


But Grafft and the city seem to be on the same page again. The city has committed a grant that will help Grafft improve the façade of the former Jeffris Theater, which sits next to the hotel.


City Manager Eric Levitt has said the city's contribution to the $67,000 project will help stimulate further development in the area. With funding problems of its own, the city is still trying to determine how much money it will contribute.


Grafft plans to make a curb cut on West Milwaukee Street to allow the front of the former theater to become a garage entrance. That would allow access to the rear of the building, which Grafft knocked down three years ago.


The entrance off West Milwaukee Street would access secured parking for the 20 apartments.


Grafft also will address the hotel's plumbing, which he said is in need of major attention.


Plans call for five apartments on each of the third, fourth, fifth and sixth floors. Grafft plans office space on the second floor, and a first-floor restaurant that he'd be happy to help develop but not operate.


The local real estate market hasn't improved much, but Grafft still believes there's a market for the apartments.


As evidence, he looks at his partner and daughter Britten, who moved into a renovated apartment in the next block.


"The young people who've gone through Britten's place say ‘Wow,'" Grafft said.


"They see what you can get downtown, a smaller footprint that can be done much nicer because it's less square footage.


"And it's right in the heart of some exciting destinations downtown. I think that doing the right kind of apartments down there makes all the sense in the world."


Since joining her father, Britten Grafft has worked to revitalize the multi-million dollar Monterey project.


"A lot of people just don't realize what they can get downtown," she said, adding that her newly renovated downtown apartment puts her in the middle of the action, both professionally and socially.


"Many of my friends are buying houses, and when they see my apartment they say they could have bought the whole building and fixed it up for what they paid for their house."


Britten Grafft said she is fortunate to have parking behind her apartment.


A lack of secured parking is the biggest problem for people who want to live downtown, she said.


That's why the theater façade improvements are important.


"I think it's a three-phase project," she said. "First the theater façade, second the parking and the plumbing, and, finally, the apartments.


"It can happen in three years as long as we keep the project moving forward. I really think that by the time the apartments are ready, the community will see more of an influx of young professionals interested in this type of living."



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