Representing the D&L families are, from left, Faye Semling, Wayne Marrier, Bill Weber, Mike Nolan and Alan Malm.
The River District Development Foundation of Merrill honored Development and Leasing Corporation (D&L) last Tuesday with a coffee reception at the Merrill Historical Society History and Culture Center.
D&L recently donated the former Anson-Gilkey property to the River District Development Foundation for development of the River Bend Trail, a hiking and biking trail along the Wisconsin River. The city of Merrill has taken possession of the 15-acre property, and the land not used for the trail will be cleared of buildings and offered for redevelopment.
The D&L group came into existence on Nov. 3, 1966. Their original purpose was to buy and lease machinery and equipment for the Semling-Menke plants in Merrill and Salt Lake City, UT. Of the original five members, Alan Malm, Wayne A. Marrier, Jack Semling and Bill Weber were all Semling-Menke people and Michael Nolan was involved as a practicing attorney. With the passing of Jack Semling and Wayne A. Marrier, Jack’s wife, Faye Semling, and Wayne’s son, Wayne J. Marrier, became members of the corporation.
Later, the group began purchasing property as well. The Anson-Gilkey property was purchased Nov. 14, 1980 with the intention of using it for possible expansion of the neighboring Semling-Menke plant. Prior to the purchase by D&L, the Anson-Gilkey property was in the news when the former owner hired arsonists to burn the buildings to the ground for the insurance money. The crime was foiled by Merrill Police and several of the conspirators were sent to prison and the property saved.
Gene Bebel, president of the River District Foundation presented certificates of appreciation to representatives of the D&L families, all of whom were on hand for the reception.
Nolan spoke of what led the D&L partners to donate the property.
“We got to this point a few years ago where the city said those buildings are looking pretty bad, and they were,” he said, “and so we had to start taking them down.”
D&L hired a deconstruction and architectural salvage specialist to reclaim and repurpose the lumber and other components of the buildings.
“Some terrific timber with 100 or more year history was used to build all that,” Nolan said. “And he took it down and has put those things in various places actually around the world.”
D&L also put money and effort into making sure there were no environmental concerns with the property.
“It’s got a clean bill of health from the DNR,” Nolan said.
The decision was then made to turn the property over to River District Foundation.
“Finally, it came to the point where we as the D&L board decided we would give the property to the trail, with the understanding that they would take down the rest of the buildings,” Nolan said.
Nolan commended those who have worked to get the River Bend Trail from concept to reality.
“Everybody who’s had a hand in this, you deserve a big round of applause from everybody in the community for the constant, intrepid work that you’re doing in developing this trail and this property,” he said.
“We’ve put in a lot of time and a lot of hard work to try to get to this point and we’re thankful for where we are,” Bebel said.
Merrill Mayor Bill Bialecki thanked the D&L families for their donation to the trail and the city.
“One thing I’ve always been amazed at is the generosity that comes from within this community,” he said. “And it’s very evident again today with the D&L Corporation and the generous contribution that they’re making, not only to the city but to the trail system.”
Bialecki added that the city’s intention is to clear the property and sell it for redevelopment as quickly as possible.
Trail development consultant Phil Valitchka said the partnership between the River District Development Foundation and the city of Merrill has infused into the community a new sense of confidence and a positive view of the future.
“In many ways, the community’s determining its future and that’s a good place to be rather than other circumstances determining for you what may take place,” he said. “The first steps on the trail - the build I and they will come phenomenon – is about to take place.”
He noted that D&L’s gift gives the public access to river frontage that has historically been in the hands of industry since the days of the first lumber boom.
“…that access to the Wisconsin River that historically that was an engine of commerce then, and now it’s going to become a newly fined-tuned or more fuel efficient engine in the economy of our future,” he said.
At the reception, the Merrill Area Community Foundation presented a grant of $75,000 to the River District Development Foundation to facilitate the clearing of the Anson-Gilkey property.
Merrill Area Community Foundation President Mike Ravn acknowledged this grant is the largest one ever given by its board.
“The generosity of the families who own the Development and Leasing Corporation in making this gift cannot be over-emphasized,” Ravn said. “It is a once in a generation gesture that helps our community expand economically and add recreational opportunities. The quality of life is enhanced for present and future Merrill citizens. We are honored to help make this happen.”
Ravn said this project is a perfect example of why the Community Foundation was created.
“I can’t tell you how good this makes our community foundation board feel,” he said.
Ravn said he looks at D&L not as a corporation, but as families.
“Those are the families of the Malms, the Nolans, the Webers, the Marriers, the Semlings that are giving a gift to this community,” Ravn said. “When you think of this approximately 15 acres of riverfront property, the value of that that’s going to go into this community can’t really be quantified.”
Linda Semling, daughter of Jack and Faye Semling, spoke on her mother’s behalf.
“She just wanted to say that she felt he would be very happy, were he here today, to be able to see what has happened with Merrill and would be very pleased with what’s happening with the trail and the donation to the city,” Linda said.
With the sales of their holdings and the usefulness of the corporation ending, the D&L group will soon be dissolved.
The Anson-Gilkey property will be put to use during the second phase of the River Bend Trail project. The Merrill Common Council accepted a bid Thursday for the first phase of the trail construction.
Musson Bros. of Rhinelander was the low bidder at $208,932, which is less than the $224,000 originally anticipated. Musson Bros. will be paving the trail from Polk Street to Center Avenue. The project includes base work, asphalt paving and grading of the trail apron, as well as installation of conduit for future lighting of the trail.
The project is being funded by the River District Development Foundation of Merrill. The group would like to get the paving project underway as soon as possible.
When the former railroad right of way was purchased by the foundation last year, the city of Merrill became the owner.