Tuesday evening, the Merrill Common Council rendered a unanimous nod for the $140,000 purchase of the former St. Vincent de Paul and Lincoln County Bank building at 401 W. Main St. The agenda item came as a unanimous recommendation from the city’s Redevelopment Authority meeting last Tuesday.
Plans call for the demolition and asbestos abatement of the blighted building prior to purchase, followed by redevelopment of the clean site. Demolition and abatement will be performed by Dan Colehouse of C&D Excavating, who is also the current owner of the property.
Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, City Administrator Dave Johnson advised the building’s dire condition is beyond recuperation, leaving demolition as the only viable option.
“The building is beyond repair or remodel,” said Johnson. “As a matter of fact, St. Vincent left due to estimated costs of roof repairs being over $100,000. The building is not ADA compliant and any historical value to the building’s façade was destroyed when the white bubble wrap was installed. Our goal is to get rid of the blighted building and start over with re-development of either a commercial or residential property.”
When asked if the parcel would be of potential interest to the Merrill Housing Authority for the upcoming Park Place re-development project, Johnson stated he was unsure.
“It would be a great opportunity for them if they were interested. The parcel could house additional units to complement Park Place. The parcel would be a great opportunity for any commercial enterprise for that matter.”
Monday afternoon, Housing Authority director Paul Russell indicated the agency’s interest is focused on the parking area behind the building.
“We could be interested in the parcel in the future,” Russel said, “but at this point and time our interest is primarily in the opportunity for additional parking during the Park Place project.”
During discussion on Tuesday, Mayor Bill Bialecki indicated once the building has been razed and the clean site is purchased by the city, the site would be available for possible lease by the Housing Authority.
“The front of the site would serve as a great staging area for contractors and equipment during the Park Place redevelopment and the rear parking would be convenient for Park Place residents,” he said.
Russell agreed the agency is interested in a lease with the city and if the purchase was not made, the next option for resident parking would be 3 blocks away.
City finance director Kathy Unertl advised that a current west side business owner is interested in opening a new business in the area but will not proceed until the 401 W. Main St. building is gone.
“The intent here is to get this building out of this business neighborhood and bring something new to the neighborhood,” Johnson added.
Although the council as a whole spoke in favor of the purchase, the approval came with its share of reservations.
“I have received several e-mails and calls from people who are just not very happy with this,” said 6th District alderwoman Mary Ball. “We already have development in the works at the MARC, Fox Point, and development on East Main. What people are telling me is they would like to see other projects progress for the purpose they are intended for before taking on others. We have other things on the back burner which don’t cost $140,000 which need to be tended to. I would just like to see some of these other things come to fruition before we take on more.”
“I think we have all had our share of calls and e-mails,” answered 3rd District alderman Ryan Schwartzman. “But I’ve also heard a great deal of positive feedback for the things we have accomplished. People are happy we are getting things done. We are taking care of things that should have been taken care of 40 years ago.”
“Mary has a point,” added 8th District alderman Tim Meehean. “The PR on this is getting heated. I’ve been getting calls also. People don’t understand TID funding, they just see it as their tax dollars being spent. They don’t care about anything but their tax dollars. I also agree with Ryan. I am a firm advocate we need to get things done in this city, things which sat for many, many years not being done.”
“I think we need to move forward with this,” commented 2nd district alderman Pete Lokemoen. “But in the future I think we need an option allowing us to show interest without being obligated to purchase property. I would like to see us be able to go out there and see what sort of interest there is in a parcel, before we go ahead and purchase it.”
The purchase will be made with funds from TID No.8, made possible by a funds transfer from TID No.3.
“The west side of the city will not recover as long as there are properties like this sitting there.”
In other matters Tuesday, by a 7-1 vote, the council approved the wording for the upcoming November referendum regarding the elected street commissioner position. The approved wording is as follows:
“Should the elected office of Merrill Street Commissioner be eliminated.”
Rob Norton dissented.
“I would like to go on record as saying the elected position has been done away with and our current street superintendent Dustin Bonack is doing a great job. For the sake of discussion I will say I do not agree with this. The position has been filled,” Norton added.
Bialecki clarified the street commissioner position is still vacant, pending the outcome of the November vote.
The council also approved a resolution amending ATV/UTV routes to allow traffic on CTH K/Center Avenue, north of Sixth Street as well as approving vacation of an alley near the former Lincoln House site and a portion of Meadow Lane.
The measure came as a recommendation from the Board of Public Works, citing the alley and vacated portion of Meadow Lane being no longer needed for public use.