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Downtown Janesville parking lot stranded

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
October 27, 2011
— Downtown business owners are steaming after the owner of Whitcomb-Lynch-Albrecht Funeral Home, 15 N. Jackson St., blocked access to a much used parking lot at the corner of Milwaukee and Jackson streets.

It appears the funeral home is holding the lot hostage to pressure the city into buying the property.


The funeral home relocated to the city’s west side and is selling the former funeral home building and parking lot for $275,000.


Funeral home owner Gerry Lynch owns about half the parking lot and the city owns the other. The parking lot sits in the footprint of the former Cullen building next to Crazy Joe's Best Deal Furniture, 314 W. Milwaukee St., said Jay Winzenz, assistant city manager.


But vehicles can only access the public spots by crossing the section owned by the funeral home. Winzenz estimated the public lot could accommodate between six or seven cars.


People also typically used the funeral home’s parking lot when it was not being used by the funeral home.


Lynch blocked off the lot shortly after moving his funeral home to its new location.


“I’m tired of supplying parking downtown for everyone,” he said, adding that he maintained the lot, plowed it and picked up trash. “Everyone thought it was a public lot.”


Lynch and the city have spoken about a sale, Winzenz said.


The parking arrangement between the funeral home and the city goes back many years.


In 1998, the city got permission from the former funeral home owners—then Overton Funeral Home—to use its portion of the lot to position equipment when the Cullen building was demolished. The parking lot was damaged, and the city agreed to repair that damage. It also built city parking.


The city agreed to lease the city lot to the funeral home for a cost of $1,167 a year.


“Basically, we paid to construct the parking lot at that location and lease it back to the funeral home,” Winzenz said.


The lease states that the city’s parking spots would be available for public use when they were not needed by the funeral home.


At some point, the city closed the curb opening to access the former Cullen building property.


“In essence, we landlocked ourselves,” Winzenz said.


The lease was set to expire in 2013, but the funeral home’s operators can terminate the lease if they move or go out of business by paying through the year.


Lynch paid the lease through 2012, so it is no longer in effect, he said.


“It’s just one of those things,” Lynch said. “I’ve maintained it (the lot). If I open it up, I have to plow it. Why do it for nothing?’’


Winzenz said the city offered to refund the lease payment and assume maintenance for both portions, but Lynch was not interested.


Creating a curb opening would cost about $30,000 because the parking lot must be rebuilt, Winzenz said.


Lynch said former Economic Development Director Doug Venable told him in past years that the city would buy the property if the funeral home ever moved. Lynch wants to sell both the building and the lot, since selling the lot separately leaves a building with no parking, he said.


Meanwhile, downtown business owners are pleading with the city to find more parking on the west end of Milwaukee Street.


“The area has become such a vibrant dining and shopping area from the river up to Jackson,” said Jim Alverson, owner of Home Again Consignment Home Furnishings. “There is far more street traffic.


“What we really need is the funeral home lot to be two hours during the day and overnight parking for tenants,” he said.


Winzenz said he doesn’t know what conversation Venable might have had with Lynch, but he believes buying the property makes sense in the long-term.


Downtown plans and strategies call for the block to become a downtown square with additional parking, Winzenz said. Plans call for everything in the block—including the funeral home—to be removed with the exception of First Presbyterian Church, 17 N. Jackson St.


The city has scheduled an appraisal of the property, but the economy is difficult right now, Winzenz said.


“We don’t see any progress in the immediate future taking place in the marketing of that long-term strategy,” he said.


The city is evaluating its options to make that parking available, Winzenz said.


“Now, the only means of access to the property we own is across the property owned by the funeral home,” he said. “It’s not an easy solution.”



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