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A city committee has given the former Elks Club a few months reprieve from demolition in order to see what interest there is in the property and what a downtown study might suggest.
The Historic Preservation Committee voted 4-1 Thursday to defer a decision on whether or not to accept the city’s order to demolish the Heritage House, formerly the Elks Club and built in 1919, at 5706 Eighth Ave., for 120 days.
The city issued a raze order on the property in late December, due to its estimation the cost of repairing the building would be more than half of its assessment of $251,000. The building has been vacant for about a decade and has been damaged by burst water pipes, vandalism and, in October, a fire. The Historic Preservation Committee reviewed the order due to the Heritage House being on the city’s historic register.
Before the public hearing, pictures of the interior of the building were shown. Mike Maki, a planner for the city, described the deterioration that has happened in the building, such as interior mold and water coming through the roof.
Kenosha Mayor Keith Bosman said he was in support of tearing the building down, in part because the Kenosha Area Business Alliance has committed $400,000 to demolish it.
“If we wait for a year or two, those funds could be gone,” Bosman said. “We have estimates that it will cost $2 million just to make it weather tight and $4 to $5 million to get it back to useful shape. I believe it is a public safety hazard. I am all for saving buildings, but realistically, I think this is beyond saving and we have to move on.”
John Fox, a Kenosha resident whose father was a former head chef at the Elks Club, said he did not want to look back in regret if the building was torn down.
“We don’t need another grand old building to come down,” Fox said.
Ray Forgianni, former director of City Development for Kenosha, said it is not easy saving historic buildings, but tearing them down brings another kind of cost.
“You couldn’t rebuild this building today; the construction methods used then would be too expensive,” Forgianni said.
Several people suggested waiting until the ongoing downtown study by Chicago’s Lakota Group was further along to see what their recommendations for the building were.
“Since we hired these professionals, we need to get their opinions as well,” Kristine Roemer, a Kenosha resident who started a petition to protect the building, said. “You could gut the whole thing, save the shell and recreate that building and it could be the anchor of downtown...but once that wrecking ball hits, time is up.”
A pair of Kenosha residents, Jessica Shauman and Cheryl Johnston, both offered to come up with a plan for using the building, asking if the KABA money could be used to assist a business plan instead of toward tearing the building down.
City staff recommended a 60-day deferral, but the committee voted for 120 days before making a decision to support or oppose the city’s raze order. Committee member Merike Phillips said she would like to see the city work with the building’s owner to look at marketing the building and conducting structural reports.
“The Elks Club absolutely deserves a chance to be preserved,” Phillips said.
Don Jensen, chairman of the committee, was the only vote against the extension. Jensen said keeping the deferral at 60 days would better spur interest in the building.
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