Some say they envision retail stores or restaurants.
Others picture multifamily apartments.
Those are just a few examples of tire-kicking that downtown revitalization boosters say they’re seeing by developers interested in the former First National Bank property in downtown Janesville.
But leaders of Forward Janesville’s charitable arm, the Forward Foundation, are seeking an independent consultant’s market analysis before they sell the vacant building at 100 W. Milwaukee St. to any of several developers who apparently are interested.
“Our goal is to find the right use first, not find a developer first. We want to know what’s the best and highest use,” Forward Janesville board President Tim Lindau said.
In Forward Janesville’s first month of owning the historic, circa-1913 former bank property, “several” groups, including apartment developers and nonprofit organizations, have been eying the property. This week, another interested developer is touring the former bank, the third group in the last few weeks to walk around the property, Lindau said during a Forward Janesville conference call Tuesday.
The question, Lindau said, is what the 23,000-square-foot property might be best suited for.
Lindau wouldn’t name any parties interested in buying the building, but he said a third-party consultant is working with Forward Janesville on a commercial property market analysis that would take a few months to complete.
Among other things, that study would gauge the need for additional apartment units downtown and elsewhere in Janesville, Lindau said.
“A lot of people are kicking the dirt and seeing what’s available. Some developers and some nonprofits are interested in the bank building and not the rest of the site. We could sell it as one piece or we could parcel it off. It’s a whole city block,” Lindau said. “Overall, the interest we’re seeing is across the board—to the point where we want to do a market study to determine what are our best options.”
Forward Janesville agreed to buy the property in September from Blackhawk Community Credit Union. Last year and early this year, the credit union had done heavy demolition inside the building with the goal of creating a museum to honor General Motors workers. The credit union shifted away from that plan earlier this year and put the torn-up property on the market.
Forward Janesville kicked off its new ownership of the building last month by sealing and painting the bank and an annex that had been left open to the elements for weeks.
Lindau said the Forward Foundation hired a contractor to apply spray-foam sealant to the building, closing it off from the elements. Then the contractor painted the foam covering a uniform red. Lindau said that face-lift is temporary, part of a city repair order Forward Foundation agreed to when it bought the property from the credit union.
The red-painted sealant is temporary, Lindau said, part of a holding pattern as Forward Foundation controls the property with a goal to sell later to a suitable developer or developers.
As Blackhawk had worked to turn the property into a museum with retail and commercial office space on one end, other developers launched apartment projects that are bringing at least 100 units to the downtown—something officials who’ve worked on revitalization downtown say is needed to spur ongoing redevelopment.
Meanwhile, over the last two years, various developers have begun moving on projects throughout Janesville that would bring hundreds of new apartment units over the next few years.
Lindau said some developers have said they would consider converting parts of the one-square-block property into apartments.
He said the market study Forward Janesville has launched is aimed at vetting the site for adaptive reuse for apartments.
In any scenario that would involve apartments, Lindau said, it’s likely a developer would want to develop apartments under contract. Before that, the developers would want a market study on the site and downtown.
“Let’s be honest, we’ll have 600 units of multifamily that will be introduced to the market over the next year. Nobody knows what that does in terms of saturating the market,” Lindau said.
“Our position is, let us do the research to see if multifamily use is even viable,” Lindau said.