Elk’s Club gets another 60 days

At tonight’s Kenosha Historic Preservation Commission meeting, which was held at the Kenosha Public Museum, the commission voted 4 to 1 to again defer the decision on the raze order (the certificate of appropriateness for demolition) for another 60 days in order to give the community and/or developers more time to come up with a workable plan for re-use of the building.

The sole dissenting vote came from the chairman of the commission, Don Jensen.  After patiently listening to a dozen citizens’ comments, he commented that “he wishes that there was a viable way to save the building, but that it comes down to money.  I’m not seeing any money to save/restore the building.  The $400,000 that the Kenosha Area Business Alliance (KABA) has pledged to raze the building, even it is used to instead restore the building, is a drop in the bucket to what is needed (about $3 or $4 million) to get the building in a habitable shape.”

Jensen further stated that he doesn’t know how long the KABA money will remain available.  “I’m not willing to play Russian Roulette with the tax payers’ money.  If the KABA money is no longer available, the cost to raze the building will be placed on the backs of the tax payers,” he said.  “There are other unused, or underused, or ill used historical structures in the downtown area.  We have to address them, too.  We can’t save them all.”  He mentioned structures like the Masonic Lodge, the Women’s Club, and the post office.  “At some point, we just have to say that the patient is terminally ill, there’s nothing more that we can do for him, and we have to make the hard decision to pull the plug.”

It was evident that all the people who spoke at tonight’s meeting are in favor of saving the building.  However, as John Fox pointed out, the city doesn’t own the building.  “Why are we even here?” he said.   But, he was in favor of the deferral because people are still interested and because of The Lakota Group’s strategic downtown study, which won’t be completed for another seven weeks.  Later in the meeting, Fox did say that “120 days is not enough time to save anything.  Even though it is a beautiful building, it should come down.”

Jeff LaBahn, director the city’s department of community development and inspections, made it clear to the commission that The Lakota Group’s study will not be providing any specific detailed recommendations for individual buildings in the downtown area.  “It will be a general, broader study,” LaBahn said.  “That level of detail will not be forthcoming.”

The commission’s next meeting will be held on August 30th.  At that time, at the end of the six months’ deferral from the commission’s last meeting held on February 23rd, the commission will either vote to accept the order to raze the building or deny it.  The commission then loses its authority to act on the building, according to the city’s ordinance.

Scott Gordon, new alderperson for the 11th district, attending his first meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission, had an observation.  “There are lots of people going every which way.  It doesn’t seem to me that there is a cohesive effort to save the building.  Each person has their own ideas.  We all need to be on the same team.”

On another item on tonight’s agenda, the commission voted unanimously to approve Alderperson Jan Michalski’s proposed chapter of the code of general ordinances entitled “Kenosha Heritage.”  This chapter addresses the protection of artifacts that reflect special aspects of the city’s historical, architectural, cultural, or aesthetic heritage.  Examples given by Michalski were the murals in the Kenosha County Court House, the Mayer Drug sign, and various statues around the city.

Other buildings which will be coming before the Historic Preservation Commission for review are the South Port Beach House and the downtown YMCA Building.


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