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Old Viroqua City Hall building one step closer to demolition

Viroqua city council votes to explore demolition of old city hall building

VIROQUA, Wis. – Citing the need to open up Viroqua’s busiest intersection and improve safety, the Viroqua City Council voted by a unanimous voice vote last Tuesday to allow city personnel to move forward with exploring demolition of the old City Hall building. The building on the corner of Decker and Main Streets has been vacant since last May when city personnel moved into the new City Hall building right next door.

The old city hall building at the corner of Decker and Main Streets

The city began construction of the new city hall in June of 2021 and the city made the move to the new building around mid-May of 2022. The city council has been discussing possible options for the old building and lot since that move last year. A few months ago City Administrator Nate Torres got permission from the council to put out a request for proposals for the old City Hall building and lot. Only one proposal came forward and that was an offer to buy the building for $50,000 and renovate it into residential and retail space. The council rejected the proposal on a 7-2 vote on Tuesday, June 27. You can read our previous story about that proposal and discussion here.

The new city hall at the corner of Decker Street and Rove Ave.

Not everyone on the council was enthusiastic about the building coming down, and there was a lot of discussion about what happens if the building is gone. Alderperson John Thompson opened the discussion with a motion to demolish the building.

“I guess I’ll Echo what I’ve heard since last meeting,” Thompson said. “That is, thank you for doing something to get that intersection opened back up, and I think the only way to get it done is to get rid of that building. So, I’d make a motion that we raze the old City Hall.”

One of the main concerns of city officials is not so much the building itself, but the close proximity of the building to the intersection, and the problems it causes with tight turns, especially for large trucks, and the impact it has on sight lines at the intersection. As we wrote about in the previous article, the traffic light pole that sits at the intersection is knocked down several times a year, and sometimes more.

Alderperson Steve Willis suggested the city hold off on demolition until there is a definite plan for what comes next.

“I guess my only issue with tearing the building down and is because we don’t have a plan for that site after it’s torn down,” Willis said. “If we had a plan it’d make it easier to then do something. Because we’re just going to essentially have a vacant lot. I guess that’s the issue is that we haven’t had a planning session over what that area could become.”

Viroqua City Council meeting from Tuesday, July 11. Old city hall building discussion starts at about the 19:45 mark.

Willis suggested some public input sessions to get ideas for the space. Previous ideas that have come up include more green space, more parking, or a combination of those. Or an art installation of some kind.

“I just don’t want to make a hasty decision that we tear a building down that we can never replace without having a plan moving forward,” Willis said. “That’s my view. “

Alderperson Cyndy Hubbard echoed Willis’ concern that nothing will happen once the building is not there.

“I’m just gonna kind of reiterate what Steve said,” said Hubbard. “You tear it down and then what. I have a feeling it’s going to sit as a vacant lot for quite some time, and we’re still going to have the same problem in the corner because it’s going to cost a lot of money to fix the corner the way… according to what I heard Sarah (city Engineer Sarah Grainger) outlined. I believe now the DOT would want us to fix it so they can make the turns. I don’t know maybe then you’ll be able to move the stop lights, but you’re still going to have the curbs. I mean, we have no plans to do anything or money set aside to fix the problem really. The building will be gone but we still have the problem, right?”

Hubbard hinted that perhaps the council should reconsider the proposal brought forward to renovate the building.

“We could be doing something and making money,” said Hubbard. “We’re going to spend money to tear it down and we could be making money by selling it, and having somebody bring property taxes to us, and real …and places for people to live and office space and figure out something to make it safer for the corners.”

City officials have designs to move the curb back once the building is gone and make the intersection safer, but that takes approval from the state Department of Transportation, and that could take some time.

Proposed curb and gutter layout imposed over footprint of old city hall

Administrator Torres pointed out the city could still sell the lot even after the building is gone and the curb is moved, but up until now no one has expressed interest.

“The site even with this chunk cut out of it is likely available for some sort of building structure to go on,” said Torres. “It would have to like dip into the parking lot and things like that to a further degree. The question is, you know, who wants to come in and do that because as of right now we don’t have any takers. Maybe it wasn’t the right time for some people. Maybe some people just didn’t notice. Could somebody in the future come and do something? Sure. The other question is, you know, there have been a lot of talks about like additional public amenities there I’ve heard conversations about green space and that’s one of the conversations we have about Main Street is there’s there’s not a lot of space for green space. Could this be an opportunity for sculpture gardens? Any number of things, and you’re right we have not gone so far as to talk about like what is the next steps once it’s gone.”

“Well, I think Steve you’re on to something,” said Alderperson Kristal Welter. “I’d really like to have some discussions about what the plan is find out what it would cost to take the building down, because right now we’re just kind of winging it and that doesn’t feel real good.”

Mayor Justin Running reminded the council that the main concern was about public safety.

“but at the end of the day when you have all of your public safety personnel telling you that something’s a hazard, and you have an opportunity to address it, taking the time to work through the whole scenario to me feels a little short-sighted. “

Viroqua Mayor Justin Running

“It’s worth noting I guess,” said Running. “From my opinion, that at every meeting we’ve talked about this, and what led to I think the ultimate decision before is public safety, and the longer that building stands there the more times that those posts continue to get hit. And it’s not about the posts, and the cost of the post, it’s about what if somebody’s standing there waiting to cross the the road and somebody hits a pole and then falls down, and hits somebody. This is an opportunity to remedy that and I think whether we know what we’re going to do with it after the building is gone, or not, the fact remains that every public safety officer in this room, the fire chief the police chief, have all spoken. Chad (Fire Chief Chad Buros) can speak to the fact that that is a dangerous intersection, and I would love Dallas’s (Dallas Severs proposed redevelopment) proposal to to happen. I think to take that lightly is foolish, but at the end of the day when you have all of your public safety personnel telling you that something’s a hazard, and you have an opportunity to address it, taking the time to work through the whole scenario to me feels a little short-sighted. “

Running said he is all in favor of options and even selling the lot for development but first the building should be demolished.

Alderman Thompson who also serves on the fire department said the public safety risk is undeniable and the city has little choice but to move ahead with next steps for demolition.

There’s a problem there, we put that pole back up that was down for like six months, and two weeks later boom, another pole goes down. Now we’ve had poles coming down, go through the wall into the old city hall building. When is it going to be that one of those comes down and clobbers somebody, either in their car or on the sidewalk? Where our luck has been good so far, but I don’t know how long it’s going to go on.

Alderperson John Thompson

“We went now, what six months, without a pole?” Asked Thompson. “There’s the inconvenience of not having the poll but there’s also the danger that that creates by not having that pole there, and not having that signal where DOT says it needs to be. There’s a problem there, we put that pole back up that was down for like six months, and two weeks later boom, another pole goes down. Now we’ve had poles coming down, go through the wall into the old city hall building. When is it going to be that one of those comes down and clobbers somebody, either in their car or on the sidewalk? Where our luck has been good so far, but I don’t know how long it’s going to go on.”

Screenshot of video from last weeks city council meeting showing a truck taking down the traffic signal in front of the old City Hall building at Decker and Main Streets in Viroqua

“I guess there’s a video of this last poll coming down is that right?” Thompson asked. “Nate do you have it? I don’t have it, I haven’t seen it myself but I understand it’s very telling. Had there been a person standing there …I just think we have to do something people, I really do.”

Administrator Torres then played two videos for the council, one shows a semi truck take down the traffic pole as it swings for the turn, and another shows a semi trailer run over a traffic barrel where the pole had been.

In the end the council vote by unanimous voice vote to allow city officials to move forward with gathering information about what demolition would entail, and possible costs.

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