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Anthony Wahl 

Tim Gilbertson pours steamed milk into a mug to finish a chai latte at Mocha Moment in Janesville on Friday. The south side coffee shop won Forward Janesville’s 2019 Small Business of the Year award.


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Downtown Legacy Center could house urban market, coffee shop

JANESVILLE

Now that crews have stripped away ceilings, walls and rooms that for years broke up and covered the grandeur of the former First National Bank, the new owners have noticed something.

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There’s room inside the place to breathe again.

Sherri Stumpf, CEO of Blackhawk Community Credit Union, hopes the credit union’s renovation of the downtown building at 100 W. Milwaukee St. will wrap up by 2021, making way for a Legacy Center honoring former General Motors plant workers.

In tandem, crews are transforming the circa-1913 building’s newer west side—the bank’s drive-thru and offices that overhang it—into a fully enclosed, multiuse office and retail space.

Stumpf said she’s working with at least two groups that are eyeing the 7,000-square-foot west annex as a possible urban market.

She said the upstairs space in the annex seems bigger now that it’s cleared of walls that partitioned it into offices. The future downstairs will connect with the original bank building and double the annex’s size with a new, enclosed space that could house a grocery store.

Angela Major 

The original architecture of the former First National Bank building can be seen during construction of the Legacy Center on Friday in downtown Janesville.

“When we got this side of the building all cleared out, we looked around and said, ‘Wow. That’s a lot of space. A lot of room to breathe,’” Stumpf said while giving The Gazette a tour of the building Friday afternoon.

Stumpf said her credit union and the groups who might locate a grocery and coffee shop in the old bank are taking stock of new apartment plans in the works on downtown’s west side.

Between an expected influx of apartment dwellers and other redevelopment work, investors think there will be a market for a small grocery store near the riverfront, she said.

“We’re hoping to get a whole lot more people living downtown, and you’ve got the new hotel next door. It (the grocery store) would be geared toward people who live downtown who’d need food items, especially last-minute kind of things,” Stumpf said.

“I don’t think it would ever be a substitute for a full grocery store, but you can get quite a bit of food items in a space this size. The idea is to have food that people could stop and pick up something for a meal quick or you wanted ready-to-go food.”

Angela Major 

Part of the future Legacy Center in downtown Janesville could house an urban market or coffee shop.

Those retail plans coexist with other ideas for the main project: a museum-like Legacy Center in the bank’s vaulted main room.

Tim Rice, the project’s manager, said work to revive the ornate, arched plaster ceiling and its pillars and skylights is on schedule, as is work to convert the west annex to retail and meeting space.

Stumpf said the credit union has firmed up a floor plan for the Legacy Center that uses former bank vaults to house records and documents about the GM plant.

The plan provides space on the upper floors for people to sift through GM history. Artifacts from the plant will be located on both floors, and crews are working to build a replica revolving door with a steel security curtain inside—part of the bank’s original architecture.

Angela Major 

A window on the upper floor of the future Legacy Center has a view of downtown Janesville.

A room facing West Milwaukee Street will have a large glass bay with a garage door that opens to the street, Stumpf and Rice said. That room will be used to showcase classic vehicles made at the GM plant through the years.

“We’ll probably put the vehicle on a riser that turns in a circle,” Stumpf said. “People driving by will be able to see that showcased car from the street. People bringing a car to display could drive it right through the door in the front.”

The credit union has selected a company that will curate a variety of reclaimed items and present them in a way that memorializes the plant and its workers and enhances the historic bank building.

“The idea is to make the space inviting and not ‘museum-like,’” Stumpf said.

On the west annex, crews Friday were breaking up concrete islands that once shuttled pneumatic tubes from the drive-thru to bank tellers. The end of the former drive-thru will continue to operate as a drive-thru, but not for money exchanges.

Instead, coffee and other items from the shops could go there.

Stumpf said project contractor JP Cullen has been working on plans to relocate the tin façade from the former Town and Country restaurant a block away and move it to the west annex.

The credit union also owns the former restaurant and plans to sell it to a developer—likely for demolition and removal.

Rice said he’s not sure if crews can get the façade off in one piece. If they can, it might be used on the Legacy Center to match the historic façades along that stretch of West Milwaukee Street. Otherwise, crews might somehow re-create the façade.

Angela Major 

Sherri Stumpf, CEO of Blackhawk Community Credit Union, gives The Gazette a tour of the future Legacy Center on Friday in Janesville.

Blackhawk Community Credit Union reclaimed the former Town and Country in lieu of foreclosure last year. The building is under a city raze-or-repair order, and Stumpf and Rice said it’s not in salvageable condition.

Stumpf couldn’t give details, but she said the credit union is entering into a purchase agreement with a developer who would buy the building and most likely tear it down for market-rate apartments with storefront retail.


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City will hire consultant to help relocate tenants of apartment complex set for demolition

JANESVILLE

The city will hire a consultant to help relocate occupants of a downtown apartment building that will be demolished to make way for a new apartment complex.

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Commonwealth Companies, the developer of the proposed River Flats affordable housing complex, will buy and demolish the property at 221 N. Franklin St. to make room for more parking and green space at the flats, according to city memos.

Housing Services Director Kelly Bedessem said 14 people live at 221 N. Franklin St.

The Gazette was unable to reach any of the tenants for comment by press time.

The city’s Community Development Authority allocated federal money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help residents with relocation.

The relocation consultant will start working with tenants after the contract is set, Bedessem said.

Housing Services chose to assist with relocation because staff wanted to make sure the tenants were taken care of and the proper processes were followed, Bedessem said.

The consultant will interview tenants about their housing costs, income and needs to help match them with new places to live, Bedessem said.

The city will use federal funds to help qualifying tenants pay for relocation expenses. It also will be used to cover the extra cost of more expensive housing for the tenants who move into comparable but more costly apartments. The assistance covering the difference in cost would last four or five years, depending on the person’s income, Bedessem said.

The city sent letters to tenants Nov. 20 notifying them of the plan for demolition.

The letters include information from the federal housing department on eligibility for relocation assistance.

Angela Major 

The apartment building at 221 N. Franklin St. is across the street from Signature 23 apartments in Janesville.

No tenants have been forced to vacate the property. Tenants are encouraged to contact the city’s housing services department before making any preparations to move, according to the letter.

To qualify for assistance, a tenant’s income must not exceed 80% of the median income for the area, according to information mailed to tenants.

The federal housing department mandates tenants who qualify for assistance be given the opportunity to move to a “comparable replacement home” that is decent, safe, sanitary, functionally equivalent, affordable for the tenant and accessible.

Housing availability in Janesville is slim, especially for affordable rental units, according to city officials who have spoken on the topic in the last year.

Bedessem said she has concern that it might be difficult to find new places to live for tenants dislocated from 221 N. Franklin St.

“I think we are concerned that our clients at large can’t find housing,” Bedessem said. “It will be helpful to have someone (the consultant) in their corner, having someone to help. I think that is a benefit other people don’t have.”

There is no set date for when tenants need to be relocated. The city hopes to work with Commonwealth Companies to make sure there is enough time to relocate tenants, Bedessem said.

Project construction can likely move forward before the apartment is demolished, Bedessem said.

The River Flats project, a proposed 92-unit affordable housing complex on Laurel Avenue and Jackson Street, still must go before the city council for approval of a tax increment financing development agreement. The council will vote on the agreement Monday, Jan. 27.

The plan commission Monday approved a conditional use permit for the project.

Senior Planner Brian Schweigl informed the commission of the need to demolish the apartment. No commissioners brought forward any concerns about the apartment or its tenants.

Six parcels will be consolidated to one to accommodate River Flats.

Two of the lots formerly housed Aaron’s Lock and Safe and are owned by Kitelinger Properties. The former locksmith shop will be torn down.

The property at 221 N. Franklin St. is owned by Simba Rentals LLC.

The remaining three lots are owned by the city.

No information on sales of the six parcels has been listed in the state Department of Revenue property sale database.


Obituaries and death notices for Jan. 11, 2020

Phyllis Rae Danforth

Jane M. Douglas

Iris L. Guelker

Audrey “Mac” Kuter


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Blackhawk Tech lockdown lifted, deputies still seek suspect

TOWN OF ROCK

Authorities continued to look for a man wanted in a possible drug investigation who fled from police and ran into a trailer park near Blackhawk Technical College on Friday afternoon, police said.

Police lifted a lockdown at the technical college and two other schools Friday, but law enforcement continued searching for a suspect in the area.

Blackhawk Tech was in lockdown while a police dog followed the scent of the suspect toward campus, but the dog lost the scent, Rock County Sheriff Troy Knudson said at 3:40 p.m.

During a 4 p.m. press conference, Knudson said a police dog was following a different track.

School buses stayed away from the area while the search continued.

Drones and at least three police dogs were used in the search, and deputies were checking empty trailer homes, Knudson said.

Chief Deputy Craig Strouse told The Gazette the Rock County Sheriff’s Office was helping the state Division of Criminal Investigation with a drug investigation that resulted in a vehicle chase.

A sheriff’s office news release indicates deputies were assisting DCI agents when a person wanted on drug charges fled in a vehicle south from the area of County J and County O on Janesville’s southeast side.

The man jumped from his vehicle at Rockvale Mobile Home Park, 6219 S. Highway 51, and fled on foot, Strouse said.

Several deputies and police dogs tracked the man north through the trailer court inside a perimeter bounded on the west by Highway 51, on the north by Sunny Lane Road, on the east by County G and on the south by Townline Road, Strouse said.

Knudson described the man as black; 6 feet, 1 inch tall; 275 pounds; 34 years old, braided shoulder-length hair; and wearing a black coat.

Knudson said “three or four” police dogs attempted to track the man through the trailer park, but the search had come up empty as of early Friday evening.

He said police planned to maintain a “reduced presence” near the trailer park Friday night.

BTC spokeswoman Jennifer Thompson confirmed Blackhawk Tech went on lockdown Friday “due to police activity in the area.”

Strouse said area school districts and bus companies were contacted to make sure schoolchildren were not dropped off after school in the area of the search, and the districts supervised those children.

Knudson said as of 5 p.m. most of the children who had been diverted from drop-off had been reunited with their parents.

The incident started at about 1:30 p.m. Friday, Strouse said.

It was not clear if the man being sought was armed.

Strouse said the man has a history of being armed, but “I did not get the impression that right now somebody has seen him armed. He has been in the past. He’s been involved in some violent stuff in the past.”

Strouse advised people inside the search area to stay stationary in their homes until authorities lift the search perimeter.

Rock County Christian School also was locked down, the sheriff’s office said.

The Janesville School District said authorities notified the district of “an armed and dangerous suspect on foot in the Rockvale Trailer Park located at 6219 S. Highway 51.”

The mobile home park was closed and locked down, as well as BTC and Rock University High School, which is housed inside BTC, the school district statement said.

Knudson declined to say on what charges the man is wanted.

The sheriff’s office had been providing “support” to the DCI, he said.

“We just kind of got involved with this as the pursuit occurred and where we wanted to try and capture him after he had fled down here. There was some coordination with DCI initially, but obviously our involvement became much more significant after the chase,” Knudson said.

When asked if the man was the subject of a DCI drug investigation, he said he “did hear that also.” He declined to describe the sheriff’s office’s role in the DCI investigation.

“The sheriff’s office knew the DCI was conducting this operation, and I believe we had some minimal involvement,” he said, adding the sheriff’s office was in a “support role.”

He referred questions about the investigation to the DCI.

The Gazette was unable to reach DCI officials Friday afternoon for comment.

Gazette Editor Sid Schwartz, and Gazette reporters Frank Schultz and Neil Johnson contributed to this report.