GALESVILLE — A city commission is weighing whether to recommend the planned demolition of a turn-of-the-century building in the downtown historic district to make way for a Laundromat and car wash.
Owner John Graf has agreed to sell his 106-year-old building, which last housed the Galesville Republican newspaper until December 2010. But the plans must first go before the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, which will weigh whether the building has significant historic qualities and should be saved.
Commissioners said it would be exciting to bring new business into town, but that they’re afraid of the potential precedent set by allowing a century-old building to be razed.
“We want to do what’s right for the community,” Commissioner Larry Gautsch said Tuesday. “We want to make sure that if a historic building comes down there’s a good reason for it.”
Thaler Oil, a Wisconsin-based company that owns several Express Mart convenience stores throughout the state, believes there is. Dan Olson, Thaler’s general manager for the stores, said when he saw the 8,800-square-foot building behind the Galesville location was up for sale, he decided to capitalize.
“Our building does not look anything like it probably should,” Olson said. “We want to get rid of two dilapidated buildings and put up something neat and historic there.”
The company made Graf a formal offer last month, and he accepted.
The company wants to tear down both the building and the adjacent Express Mart and construct a new 3,900-square-foot building, which would house a new store, as well as a car wash and Laundromat — two businesses not present in Galesville for years.
Olson said the design of the new building would be heavily influenced by the architecture of the old buildings in the town square.
The preservation commission has already discussed the sale at two meetings. Gautsch said commissioners would prefer to see the building maintained and repurposed, but Olson said that isn’t financially or structurally possible.
“We would literally be gutting the entire building,” he said
The commission will also have to consider the condition of the building, which Graf described as “not really pretty.”
“Yes, it’s 106 years old,” he said. “But like lots of old things it has not weathered well.”
Commissioner Richard Sacia said losing a historic building would be hard, but the city could benefit.
“Lord knows we need more business downtown,” he said. “Some (old buildings) are worth saving, some aren’t. I’m not sure if that one is.”
The commission is expected to vote at a public hearing set for March 29. The decision amounts to a recommendation and would ultimately go before the Galesville City Council.
Sacia, Gautsch and Commissioner Brad Simonson each said Tuesday they don’t know how they will vote. Other commissioners couldn’t be reached.
Graf said the project would benefit the community, but he readily acknowledged the personal benefit.
“I’m on a tight rope,” he said. “It’s my building that I want to sell.”