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A sign touting the new town square in downtown Janesville stands outside the southern storefronts of the former Town and Country restaurant on South River Street on Wednesday. The building is kitty-corner from the town square.

JANESVILLE

An out-of-state buyer is nearing a deal to purchase and give a needed face-lift to a stretch of mostly vacant buildings in downtown Janesville.

The unidentified buyer, who lives in California but has connections to Janesville, would acquire five adjoined buildings on South River Street that once housed Town and Country restaurant. That’s under the preliminary terms of a sale and development agreement involving the city, Economic Development Director Gale Price said.

The deal would include 14, 16, 18, 22 and 24 S. River St. The five buildings are mostly vacant aside from the Rock Valley Driver School, the divorce and family law attorney Pro Se Inc., and some residents living in upper-floor apartments, Price said.

He stressed that the sale and development agreement are not finalized. He didn’t know when that could happen or what the terms of the sale would be.

The Gazette could not reach current owner Travis O’Connell for more information.

O’Connell and his wife, Jennifer, told The Gazette in 2015 they were planning on renovating the upstairs apartment space and opening a gastropub on the ground floor of 22-24 S. River St.

That plan never came to fruition. The building deteriorated, and the city gave the O’Connells a raze-or-repair order in late 2018.

Price said the prospective new owner would inherit that raze-or-repair order and would need to enter a compliance agreement with the city’s building division to fix the property.

The building will need “significant TLC” to become viable again. Given the likely financial investment needed to do that, the city could consider a tax increment financing deal to make the project happen, Price said. Those talks are still in early stages.

“We’d love to see the building get redone, but a lot of things have to come together,” he said.

The prospective buyer was in Janesville during the ARISE Town Square grand opening in October and was excited about the proximity of the building and public plaza, Price said. The two are located kitty-corner from each other.

The potential buyer wants to rehab the upstairs apartments and use the ground floor as commercial space, Price said. He did not know additional details of the plan and said it was too early to say whether the driving school and law office would remain at 14 and 16 S. River St., respectively.

While the location is commonly known as the former Town and Country restaurant, that business closed before Price started working in Janesville nearly 20 years ago. Since then, it has been home to a series of short-lived bars and restaurants, he said.

City data show that since 2009, seven bars and restaurants have come and gone across the various storefronts. The most recent was QT’s Bar and Banquet, which was located at 18-24 S. River St. and closed in 2015, Price said.

Renovating the building and fixing potential structural issues will be the first key to finding a stable tenant, he said.

“That’s going to be the first thing. If a tenant’s got a choice to go to a better maintained building, they’re going to do that,” Price said. “Two, an operator with the capital to have longevity there. You need an operator who has the cash to operate the business and have a business plan that has something that steps out different from everyone else.”

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