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Committees favor razing city garage

Demolition supporters want park or houses

By Scott Bellile

The Parks and Rec Committee and Public Works Board both decided New London’s 70-year-old city garage needs to go.

The committee and board on July 5 made a joint recommendation to New London City Council to knock down the city-owned garage on Wolf River Avenue and keep the land in the public trust for now.

The city council was scheduled to vote on the joint recommendation Tuesday, July 12, after press time. It was likely to pass, given seven of the 10 city council members also serve on at least one of the two committees, and six of those seven voted in favor of it.

Construction of a new garage is underway down the street with a completion date of October.

Public weighs in
“I don’t think in all the time I’ve been on the council—and this is now my third or fourth term—I have ever had so much feedback from constituents, not only in my district but throughout the entire city,” Fourth District Alderman Ron Steinhorst said. “This has definitely spurred some interesting thoughts.”

“I agree with Ron,” First District Alderman Robert Besaw said. “I think this subject has brought up more controversy or more discussion than anything I can remember. And I’ve heard it both ways: tear it down, sell it.”

Four members of the public gave opinions during the public comment portion on what to do, including Chad Karpf, the owner of King Storage. In June he offered to buy the garage and, give it a facelift and convert it to self-storage units.

“I’ve had nothing but positive feedback in terms of this idea since the article in the newspaper,” Karpf said. “I’ve got two guys that want to rent units from there already and it’s because of the location. They like the location. They want to put a boat there. The boat launch is right there.”

Resident Dave Nolan, who’s worked in realty, argued a storage unit user doesn’t care if the unit’s along a river. He said Karpf is a “wise businessperson” who can find an alternative location to a waterfront.

If New London wants local business to grow, it must value its “quality of life” components like its recreation and the Wolf River, Nolan said. He said it would be better to see parks or housing along the water like in Green Bay and Milwaukee.

“There’s one asset for us to build New London, and that’s the water,” Nolan said. “We have one time to do it right, and we have one river to do it right, and I think this is the time.”

Resident Steven Sternberg went a step further and said he doesn’t want any private enterprise on the land.

“The sheds could be used for city storage, which there’s never enough storage for anything, and the rest of the parking lot as is could be used for overflow boat parking,” Sternberg said. “It would not cost the city anything to leave it as is.”

Resident Joe Weber sided with Karpf. He said if Karpf is willing to buy the facility, the city should support local business and think about tax revenue.

“We need parks, but I come to most of these parks at times, and other than the Little League baseball, there’s nothing going on,” Weber said. “[Parks] make no money. They really are an asset in some respects if they’re used, but when they are sitting there with very few people using them, I’m against getting more parks.”

‘A terrible looking building’
Mayor Gary Henke, who supports razing the garage, said no coat of paint could beautify “that ugly building” if it became storage.

Driving into town from the west, Henke said he noticed the once run-down homes in the Fifth Ward across the river have been fixed and upgraded, unlike the garage.

“I’ve had a lot of phone calls plus people stopping me in the grocery store … I have not heard one person tell me to leave it up,” M Henke said. “Tear it down. If you don’t do anything else with it, plant grass. It’s a terrible looking building for an entryway to the city.”

Henke raised more concerns about converting it to storage units, including:

• Whether the garage could sell for its market value.

• Regarding Karpf’s willingness to allow public boat parking outside, if there would be enough room for fishermen to park their boats and for storage users to access their units 24/7.

• The costs on the buyer’s shoulders to improve the building—Henke said painting it could cost half the value of the building. Additionally, regulations would require Karpf raise the floor above river level. Renovations can’t exceed spending limits enforced by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

“If we sell that building and keep it as a storage facility, in 20 years you’re going to have people looking back at this council and saying, ‘What were those idiots thinking of? That could have been out of here. It would have riverfront with public access,’” Henke said.

“This is not a historical building,” Steinhorst said. “This is just a pile of bricks sitting on top of each other waiting to fall down.”

Committee, board debate
The board of public works and the parks and recreation committee voted to demolish the garage, maintain the land and determine a plan for development later. The recommendation passed 8-1 with Besaw against.

“Myself, I don’t believe in tearing buildings down,” Besaw said. “I think we should keep the [tax] revenue, and the money that we’re going to save, we could put in road projects.”

Steinhorst, Parks and Recreation Committee member Bob Marcks and Fifth District Alderman Dennis Herter said they, like Henke, have only heard residents tell them to tear the garage down.

Third District Alderwoman Lori Dean said it’s “a very hard call.”

“If we’re going to save the property so that we can extend it as park as far as the Riverside Park, then I think we should get a plan together to do something, not just sit on it like we’re sitting on other properties in town that we’ve retained,” Dean said.

Henke told her that would be up to Parks and Recreation to determine in its five-year Open Space and Recreation Plan. In the meantime, he suggested the city plant grass and use the parking lot for overflow parking for fishing boats.

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