City to acquire Lincoln House, guide rehab of building

The Merrill Common Council will vote on a proposal to acquire the Lincoln House building as part of a plan to rehabilitate the structure at its meeting next Tuesday.

According to Mayor Bill Bialecki, the plan calls for the city to acquire the building from the Bank of Wausau while a developer from Milwaukee works to secure grants and other funding to cover the cost of rehabilitating the historic building. Bialecki said the goal is to make sure the work to renovate the building is done properly.

“We don’t want to see somebody come in and give it a little coat of paint and Febreeze the carpets and call it good. We want to get it out of its blighted state,” he said.

Bialecki said that the plan would result in the city having ownership for about a year before the developer buys it from the city. The building was foreclosed upon by the Bank of Wausau and is working with the City in order to get it off its books. The final purchase price will be announced at the Common Council meeting next Tuesday when they will vote on the plan.

“Let’s just say that it is extremely reasonable,” Bialecki said.

The building is in both a TID and Blight district, and TID money as well as grants can be used to purchase it.

“Blight elimination, that is what TID is for,” Bialecki said.

The city will be seeking opinions from other consultants to make sure that the city is moving forward with the best possible final plan for the building.

“We are going to do a responsible job in rehabbing it,” Bialecki said.

Bialecki said the city is also looking at acquiring Courtview Apartments on Main Street. In all likelihood, the land will be used to make a new access road to River Street, as well as for permit parking for the courthouse.

“We’ve had consultants look at it, we’ve had people go through it three times and it is not worth rehabbing. Number one, you’ll never find someone to do it and you’d never get your money back. So the intention of the city is to acquire it and tear it down,” he said.

At the March Common Council meeting, the aldermen and women voted for the city to acquire the former J&J’s Bakery building at 818 E. 1st Street. Bialecki said that process is slowly moving forward.

“It’s a long process, by the time you get through with the owners and the courts. Sometime these can take a long time, it depends on how cooperative the owners are,” Bialecki said. “I remember some years back we did a building on South Genesee Street, the old feed mill there, and it took us three years to complete the process.”

The Lincoln House project, however, has been moving rather rapidly.

“We started talking about this right after I took office last year,” he said. “We hired some good consultants to work with it. They worked with us on Courtview Apartments and they looked at the 811 & 813 E. 1st Street buildings. Right now there is an offer to buy those buildings, but that is all I can say about that at this time.”

The building at 820 E. 1st Street is being rehabbed by the owner and work has already started in the project.

“All we did was have a contractor take the loose bricks down before the snow flew to get the barricades out of there and for safety,” Bialecki said. “We could see from when we took our first photos in April until November that the gap between the bricks was growing.”

He said the money the city has spent to stabilize the buildings will be recouped from the tax assessment against the buildings. Bialecki said when the project to rehab the Lincoln House is done, the increased value of the property and the taxes it will provide to the city could make the project worthwhile.

“It will also encourage more development downtown and more reinvestment into downtown,” he said. “It will bring up the property values of the properties around it, too. And that increases our tax base. We need to grow the tax base in this city, that is very evident, not only for the city, but for the school system, the county, everybody.”

He added that it is often much less expensive to rehabilitate an existing building than start from scratch on vacant land.

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