Former gas station faces demolition

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Neil Johnson
January 9, 2015

JANESVILLE—The historic former gas station next to the Janesville Police Department could face the wrecking ball if the city council moves forward Monday with a staff recommendation.

Staff is recommending the council ignore a proposal by four residents to save the former Route 66-style gas station at 101 N. Franklin St. The residents planned to either move all or part of the station or renovate it where it stands, according to a memo by Building and Development Services Manager Gale Price.

The group did not provide required details in a letter of intent it submitted Dec. 29, and it's out of time to meet a council deadline for a full plan to save the building, Price wrote in the memo.

“The expectation was that they'd show us how this is going to happen. The letter, when you look at it, lacks detail. There is nothing concrete that is going to be executed,” Price said Thursday.

The staff recommendation puts pressure on the council to stick to an ultimatum it gave the group in August, when it gave the building a reprieve from demolition. If the group wanted to save the building, it had to submit a plan with financial details, a project timeline and plan of action by the end of 2014.

If the council ignores the group's proposal, it would start the wheels turning on city staff plans to demolish of the building. Demolition could move forward within 60 to 90 days, Price said.

The group, which calls itself Citizen Advocates for Preservation, wants to save the building to turn it into a transportation museum to reflect the city's history as a former auto-manufacturing hub.

The group's letter outlines a handful of options the group is still hashing out to try to save the Spanish Colonial former gas station. The options include:

-- Restoring the building on site using state and national grants for historic preservation.

-- Relocating part or all of the building at an estimated cost of $150,000 to $600,000, an option for which the group wrote that “funds are not readily available.”

-- Salvaging historic elements of the building and incorporate them into an existing building or using the materials to build a new building entirely.   

According to its letter, the group is proposing it remove parts of the former gas station and place them on the former Westphal Electric Building adjacent to Traxler Park, at 1015 N. Parker Drive, which is city-owned.

The group said it could renovate that building as a museum.

Price said he and other city officials have been “noncommittal” about that plan, because it probably would hinge on preservation of a building the city had planned to demolish to expand Traxler Park. That plan is part of the city's downtown riverfront revitalization plan.   

The group didn't provide details on how it would fund any of its plans other than citing potential historical grant sources. It wrote in the letter that “it is important to narrow our plan to one idea before soliciting funds from various donors.”

Shannon Ahrens, who is the spokeswoman for Citizen Advocates for Preservation, told The Gazette on Thursday she hadn't had a chance to talk to other members of her group, which include downtown Janesville businesswoman Jackie Wood and Tom and Sue Skinner.

She said it was the first she'd heard that the plan her group proposed didn't meet city requirements.

Ahrens said her group believed the council wanted a letter of intent for a plan, not a full-fledged business plan. She said her group expected the letter to yield feedback.

“We've had multiple meetings where they (city staff) seemed encouraged by ideas. Then they come back with this. It's very discouraging,” Ahrens said. “If they're planning on coming back and saying, 'No, there is some technicality and we're not going to work on this with you,' that's unfortunate.”

One option staff has forwarded to the council is to authorize staff to continue working through the group's plans, but the option is not being recommended.

The city, which bought the property years ago, has long planned to level the building for a future police station expansion. City officials, including City Manager Mark Freitag, have been pressing to knock the property down since earlier this year.

Freitag has said it would show the city is serious about having blighted properties cleaned up in and around downtown.

Price says the city never intended to leave the building standing.

Although the police station has no immediate plans for expansion, the property is in need of between least $100,000 and $250,000 in repairs, according to city estimates.

Price said the council has made it clear its deadline for the group was meant to prompt action on whether to immediately save or demolish the property—not extend planning on what to do with parts of the building indefinitely. 

“This has been hanging out here for a number of years. The council said, we can give it a little more time, but this has got to get decided and planned out by end of 2014, the start of 2015," Price said. "Well, here we are."

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