Following lengthy discussion last Wednesday, the Merrill Common Council ruled 7-1 to uphold a July decision to purchase the former Lincoln Community Bank and St. Vincent de Paul Building located at 401 W. Main St., as well as adjacent parking lots from RD Properties of Wisconsin, LLC, for a maximum of $140,000 (TID #8 – West Side).
The agenda item was brought to the council by 2nd District Alderman Pete Lokemoen.
During July’s meeting, initial plans called 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 Kolehouse of C&D Excavating, who is also the current owner of the property.
Prior to opening of discussion, Denis McCarthy chose to stand during Public Comment session and address the council on behalf of St. Vincent de Paul.
“I’m just curious about how a building I was told we couldn’t get a dollar for is now about to be purchased by the city for $140,000? If that’s the case, shouldn’t that money go to the core of Merrill? Thats what St. Vincent de Paul is!” he stated.
“The reason I am doing this is due to the information provided by Mr. McCarthy,” Lokemoen added in opening council discussion. “There is an apparent discrepancy between initial statements of lack of value in the building. I wondered and still do wonder what the redevelopment plan was for the building. I’m looking for explanations.”
City Administrator Dave Johnson stood by his statements made in July, when he advised the council that the building is beyond recuperation, leaving demolition as the only viable option.
“The building is beyond repair or remodel,” Johnson said at the July meeting. “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 redevelopment of either a commercial or residential property.”
City finance director Kathy Unertl said 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.
Mayor Bill Bialecki indicated once the building had 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.
1st District Alderman and Housing Authority Director Paul 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 three blocks away.
“The building is not worth a dollar,” Johnson reiterated Wednesday evening. “The building is not ADA compliant and the roof is in need of repair which St. Vincent could not afford and forced them to move to the Menard Building,”
“We decided the person who purchased the property could not make the building habitable, “ Lokemoen argued. “Whether or not it’s ADA compliant is the responsibility of that individual, not us.”
Russell repeated Lokoemen’s question regarding future plans of the property once purchased.
“What is to happen with this vacant lot if our Redevelopment Authority does not have a redevelopment plan in mind?”
Untertl stated the property would go out for Request for Proposal.
During continued discussion with McCarthy at the podium, 3rd District alderman Ryan Schwartzman asked McCarthy if St. Vincent de Paul had made the city any sort of offer on the property or if the city had made an official offer.
“No, there wasn’t,” McCarthy answered.
Lokemoen cast the sole vote in favor of rescinding the property purchase.
In other matters Wednesday, the council approved a recommendation by the Redevelopment Authority for the $3,000 purchase of property located at 911 E. Main Street, for a proposed Pocket Park from Merrill Federal Savings & Loan.
The council also unanimously approved an ordinance amendment for a 3% water rate increase for city residents, per recommendation by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.