Future of Monterey Hotel?

Jim Grafft, owner of Janesville’s Monterey Hotel, signed an agreement last month to make fixes required by the city, which issued a raze-or-repair order in September for the iconic property in the city’s downtown.

The city of Janesville and the owner of the former Monterey Hotel have reached an agreement to repair this structure, and it’s good the two sides are talking.

But we’re not celebrating.

In a best-case scenario, owner Jim Grafft abides by a list of repair requirements, assuring the city and public his building won’t collapse. Presumably, Grafft can continue using the rooftop as a perch for cellphone antennas.

Grafft has no choice but to cooperate because the city made clear through a raze-or-repair order that his building would face demolition should he do nothing.

The city has begun more aggressively enforcing codes for downtown properties, and we welcome this. That the Monterey Hotel has managed to escape scrutiny for so long speaks to the city’s former lack of standards for the downtown.

But as we’ve pointed out before, there are millions of dollars—including taxpayer money—being poured into the downtown through the ARISE initiative. It’s not enough to merely ask whether a property is complying with building and fire codes.

The ARISE initiative raises the bar for downtown properties. ARISE isn’t about stabilizing buildings so they don’t collapse. It’s much bigger than that, and so we owe it to ARISE to think bigger. All conversations concerning blight within the ARISE area should focus on redevelopment, namely expediting it.

Grafft might spend the money necessary to comply with codes, but then what? Should the city and the public, having spent millions on a new town square and festival street, allow some property owners to endanger this nascent, fragile revival?

Property owners are free to do with their properties as they please but not at taxpayer expense. To the extent that dilapidated, underutilized buildings tarnish ARISE and act as a drag on the initiative and its stakeholders, the city must demand more than the minimum from property owners.

We like that the lines of communication have opened between Grafft and the city. Their agreement gives city inspectors the right to access the building at any time, and Grafft will be required to meet with city officials monthly to provide status updates.

Yes, the city must do whatever necessary to ensure the Monterey Hotel or parts of it don’t fall down. But once the roof stops leaking, the conversation cannot end. It must focus on the site’s redevelopment.

Mr. Grafft, what do you think should be done with this building? Please share with the community your vision for this historic structure. City officials, what are your thoughts about making the hotel into something more than a brick cell tower?

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