La Crosse to purchase former Plaid Pantry

Shelter Development Corp. bought the former Plaid Pantry building, vacant since 1998, last year, hoping to turn it into a community center. Now the city is buying the building from Shelter Development.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune

After sitting vacant for 19 years, the former Plaid Pantry will become city of La Crosse property after a decision Tuesday by a city committee.

The La Crosse Community Development Committee unanimously approved purchasing the building at 618 Jackson St. for $55,000 from Shelter Development Corp., just a year after the nonprofit purchased it. City officials hope the purchase will clear the way for a better use for the property in the heart of the Powell-Poage-Hamilton neighborhood.

“The entire time I’ve lived in the neighborhood — which is eight years now — this building has been on our priority list,” council member Phil Ostrem, who is also a member of the PPH Neighborhood Association, said. “It’s a long, unpleasant history, and I’d like to see it turn the corner forever.”

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Phil Ostrem mug

Ostrem

The building housed the Plaid Pantry for many years, then the Wilson Food Store before the convenience store closed in 1998. It has sat vacant since then, despite the city attempting to purchase it as part of its neighborhood rehabilitation efforts.

“It’s been a property that has caused issues for the city for a number of years, whether it was way back when with police calls and those types of activities, or more recently with the building condition and the chronic state of the building itself,” La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat said.

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Mayor Tim Kabat

Kabat

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Chuck Berendes mug

Berendes

Shelter purchased the property for $55,000 last year with the idea of turning the eyesore into a resource for its neighbors, according to board member Chuck Berendes.

“We bought the building and then we were hoping to do this sort of community center idea,” said Berendes.

When Shelter purchased the building, Kabat reached out to the group and offered city support to turn what he deemed a “chronic nuisance” into an asset, using one of the city’s many neighborhood revitalization programs.

The building itself is an empty shell, without heating or air conditioning, plumbing or electrical. It sits on a 40-foot-by-75-foot lot and is assessed at about $34,000.

“We tore the walls out because there was no insulation,” Berendes said. “It’s a roof and four walls, and that’s it.”

After the deal was closed, the board planned to chip away at repairs, moving slowly to get the derelict property up to code.

“I really thought we’d kind of raise a little money and take it in little bites,” Berendes said.

However, then Shelter received a raze or rehabilitation order from the city’s Building and Inspections Department, which had been attempting to address the building’s condition for at least four years with the previous owner. The raze order meant the group had to either get started repairing it and making it usable or tear it down, both of which were costly.

“That really put our feet to the fire,” Berendes said.

After meeting with the city, Kabat suggested the city purchase it, which would give it greater flexibility to address the issues surrounding the building. With the city’s financial and economic development tools, it’s in a better place to attract something to that site, whether it’s on that lot in particular or a future land assembly, which would combine that lot with a neighboring one for a future project.

“I do think it’s another tool in our toolbox that shows again the neighborhood that the city is going to be very aggressive in these kinds of fixes,” Kabat said. “It’s not necessarily ideal paying more than its assessed value, but also the thought that this property could sit or have a continuation of the long, sordid history that Phil (Ostrem) was taking about is unacceptable.”

With the state of the building and the raze order in place, city staff and officials will need to consider demolition.

“There’s nothing left. There’s no quick way to turn this around,” Ostrem said. “I would like to see it razed and worked toward an assembly.”

Shelter’s board hasn’t given up hope for a community space within the neighborhood.

“There’s all this interest from groups who don’t have their own space, who are just kind of getting started or just don’t have a budget to lease their own building,” Berendes said.

The group is keeping its options open, he added.

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Jourdan Vian is a reporter and columnist covering local government and city issues for the La Crosse Tribune. You can contact her at 608-791-8218.

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