Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Oct. 30, 2000

Demolition plans move forward for former Werner building

By Lynda Jensen

Plans are moving forward for the demolition of the former Werner Hardware building on Howard Lake's main street.

The building's future has been a source of controversy for the past few months.

The city, which owns the property, wants to tear down the old building and build a new structure as part of a Highway 12 streetscape.

Opponents of the project claim the building has historical value and should be refurbished.

The building is not on the Register of Historic Places, although it was built prior to 1900.

Mike Deutz, a developer from St. Joseph, posted a large sign outside the building Wednesday, Oct. 25 soliciting office space and apartment rentals for next year.

The sign was meant to be placed on an empty lot, since the original plans called for the demolition of the building by the first of October, Deutz said.

The demolition didn't happen because of objections by some residents, including Pat and Molly Van Oss, who successfully persuaded the city council to wait 30 days, even though the council made it clear that it still planned to continue with the demolition. The Van Osses own the Old Towne Gallery located across the street from the Werner Hardware building.

The 30-day reprieve happened at a bad time during construction season, as well as for financing, Deutz commented.

Currently, Deutz has signed a letter of intent with the city about the building and has completed a preliminary tax increment financing application.

It is possible for Deutz to walk away from the deal since no other contracts have been signed. However, Borglund indicated that Deutz's intentions are true and the city expects the process to move forward.

Legally, Deutz must submit his plans to planning and zoning, including how the building will look, which is then formally approved or rejected by the city council, said Doug Borglund, city administrator.

As part of the agreement, the new building will be "small town, old style," Deutz said. "It will fit into main street."

The construction there will be the first time that Howard Lake has seen new construction on main street since 1983, Borglund said.

The new building should actually look a great deal like the Old Towne Gallery building owned by the Van Osses, Borglund said.

The project will take three to four months to complete, Deutz said.

Ted Schmitz, who is a developer associated with Shoreline Drive in Howard Lake, initially referred the City to Deutz, Borglund said.

Opponents claim that the building should be restored as an enhancement to downtown.

"Things happen very fast here with a bulldozer," Molly said.

The Van Osses have large black curtains hanging in the windows of their business, the Old Towne Gallery, with signs reading: "Mourning the imminent demolition of our historic neighbor, the Rausch Store."

At the last council meeting, members pointed out that nothing was done in secret about the building and that the process actually took eight months.

Another issue is the building's structural integrity.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation evaluated each building along Highway 12 to prepare for the reconstruction work next summer. It gave the worst report possible, according to Mayor Gerry Smith at the meeting.

In its report about the Werner building, MnDOT expressed strong concerns about the building being able to withstand the construction around it.

"The basement walls are falling in," Deutz said. In addition, there is asbestos contained in the building and this poses a health threat, he said.

If all goes as planned, the new office space will contain 5,000 square feet of space on the main floor and four two-bedroom apartments above. The new building will be ready for occupancy by the end of next summer, Deutz said.

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