Viroqua City Council rejects bid to buy and renovate old city hall, fate of building still unclear

Viroqua, Wis. – The Viroqua City Council has been debating what to do with the old city hall building on the corner of Decker and Main Street now that the city’s new city hall is up and running. City staff moved into the new building in the spring of last year and the council has been weighing its options about what to do with the old building ever since.

You can watch the discussion and vote by the Viroqua City Council of a proposal to buy the old city hall building and renovate it

The city recently put out a call to developers to submit proposals for the property and the city council discussed the proposals came back to them at the regular council meeting on Tuesday, June 27.

The request for proposals was open ended and city said they would consider proposals to buy and renovate the building, or ideas for new development on the site. The main reason the city decided to move out of the structure to begin with because of its poor condition. The building also has an impact on overall traffic at the intersection because it is so close to both Main Street and Decker Street. That creates line of sight issues at the corner and a tight turning turning radius for large trucks turning from Main Street onto West Decker from the north.

In addition to the traffic issues that the building creates, the traffic pole that sits next to the building gets knocked over on a regular basis creating a safety issue, and cost to the city. At the the Tuesday meeting, City Clerk/Treasurer Lori Polhamus said every time the pole gets knocked down it costs the city about $1,000 dollars because that is the amount of the city’s insurance deductible.

City Administrator Nate Torres said he showed the property to four developers but only received one proposal. That proposal came from city resident Dallas Severs of Severs Real Estate. Severs was at the meeting and presented his proposal to the council. Severs proposal was to buy the building for $50,000 and renovate the building. The renovation plan included two apartments on the upper level and retail space, or additional residences in the lower level.

Severs said he has had his eye on the structure for a while and drives by it often. He said as a local small business owner he wanted to restore the building (that was originally a bank) and keep its historic look as much as possible. Severs presented a graphic of what the building could look like after renovations including tuck pointing and new windows.

Rendering of what the old city hall might look like after renovation

Severs estimated the cost of renovations at about $300,000 and presented a possible floor plan for the building. Severs also said he would be willing to work with the city on maximizing the turn radius on the corner to help alleviate safety concerns, including eliminating the steps on the corner entry to enable the curb to move closer to the building.

Severs laid out the benefits of the proposal for the council including the savings from not having to demolish and dispose of the building, the increased tax base and the additional housing and retail spaces that are both in short supply.

After the presentation a number of members of the council raised concerns including the tight intersection and whether the proposal would actually help solve the turn radius and traffic pole issue. City Engineer Sarah Grainger said it was very hard to tell without a definite plan with dimensions but moving the curb and the pole might help the issues some, but would not likely be as ideal as having the building not there.

“I like your proposal,” said Alderperson John Thompson. “But I personally have to be convinced we are going to solve the problem on that corner with traffic before I can say, yeah we need to do that. I guess this is the one and only opportunity we are going to have in the next 50 years to fix it, and we’ve got to address it. With knowledge and not just guesses.”

A graphic showing a study of where the ideal place that the curb and gutter should be to maximize the turn on that corner was put up for the council, and it showed the curb running through the front corner of the building itself.

A graphic showing the ideal location of the curb in darker grey runs through the corner of the building

Mayor Justin Running pointed out the that the pole traffic pole itself is a safety risk given how many times it has been knocked over and there is concern it could hit a pedestrian. Alderperson Dave Tryggestad said his top priority is safety is is convinced the only solution is to remove the building.

“If it comes to a vote I would vote to remove the building to open up the area,” Tryggestad said.

Alderperson Cyndy Hubbard said it may be wrong to assume large trucks will always be trying to make that turn when its actually easier to got to Broadway and turn there.

“I have a feeling someday the DOT is going to say it’s really dumb to have the for 56 (State Hwy 56) there when they can just go straight down and take left on Broadway,” said Hubbard.

City Engineer Sarah Grainger said they have had discussions about changing the Hwy 56 intersection to Broadway but that could be a long process and the DOT “Is not going to do it on their own.”

There was also a discussion of the estimated cost $200,00 for demolition and how that number was arrived at. City officials said that was a rough estimate based on discussions with the building inspector and some contractors and included cleaning up and restoring the site.

City Administrator Torres said he agreed with Severs that if you look at strictly numbers it makes sense for the city to just sell the building because it saves the cost to improve the site and brings in tax revenue.

“The question is does that net positive outweigh, and to Dalla’s point, is it going to be as expensive to maintain a patch of grass or some landscaping as a building?” Asked Torres. “Absolutely not. It would be a much lower operating cost. But certainly, its not adding money year over year through additional revenue.”

Torres said the council needed to weigh those numbers against the safety issue related to the corner.

Some on the council also questioned the renovation numbers. Torrres said one previous estimate over 10 years ago to bring the building up to code was over $900,000, but that did include being ADA compliant.

Hubbard made a motion to accept the offer.

“I disagree with the $50,000,” said Tryggestad. “That’s out of the question. It hasn’t been appraised and we are throwing a number out there of a lousy $50,000 for a corner building. That’s just nuts.”

“But you are talking about spending thousands and thousands just to tear it down,” said Hubbard.

The motion to accept the offer was defeated by a 7-2 vote with Hubbard and Willis voting yes.

The council then went into closed session to discuss the offer more. Coming back into open session Alderperson Andrew Bergum made a motion to reject the offer from Severs. The motion passed on a 7-2 vote with Hubbard and Willis voting no.

Mayor Running said the council rejected the offer because they felt the proposal did not meet the public safety concerns the council has regarding the intersection.

Following the meeting Torres said the council will likely discuss the future of the building and the corner site at next months city council meeting on July 11.

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