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Former Pioneer Ford project gets commission OK
43 vote defeats move to separate Gates Hotel from project
Old Ford old building view
The former Pioneer Ford Sales showroom is the only building proposed to be retained in the project. - photo by General Capital Group

The City of Platteville Plan Commission Monday night recommended approval of the Specific Implementation Plan for the former Pioneer Ford Sales property.

The commission’s 4–3 vote, as well as another 4–3 vote to merge all the properties into one lot, came despite the plea of a member of the city Historic Preservation Commission to delay approval, or separate the former Gates Hotel property, at 45 S. Oak St., from the project, until the building’s status as a possible landmark can be determined by federal and state authorities.

Commission members Joyce Bos, Julie Loeffelholz and Scott MacDowell voted against each motion. Commission member Tom Nelson was absent.

Developer General Capital Group of Fox Point proposes a 71-unit complex on the 1.85-acre site using the original Pioneer Ford showroom, and new construction in a U shape east of the showroom. The arched-roof building at 70 S. Water St. and the former dry cleaner building at 50 S. Water St. will be demolished for new construction. The ground floor of the showroom will be used for retail space, along with the ground floor of the new construction along Water Street.

The project is slated to have 10 one-bedroom apartments, 46 two-bedroom apartments and 15 three-bedroom apartments, 10 of which will have access off the building’s courtyard.

Director of Community Development Joe Carroll said the project would have “some TIF assistance … essentially a TIF loan” from Tax Incremental Financing District 7.

The largest amount of discussion was over the Gates Hotel building, whose historic value was debated. The commission recommendation included prioritizing reclamation and recycling of building materials from the building, which is proposed to be removed in favor of parking for the project.

The contentious meeting included arguments between commission members and between an alderman and the speaker opposed to approval of the project, as well as disagreement over how quickly the Gates Hotel’s historic status could be determined by federal and state authorities.

HPC member Garry Prohaska asked Plan Commission members which of them attended the December 2015 visioning session for the site.

To that, Ald. Tom Nall, a member of the commission, replied, “You do not get have the right to ask questions concerning whether we were at the meeting or not at the meeting.”

Prohaska said that attendees at that meeting voted first in favor of preserving the Gates Hotel, and second for “no student housing.”

Prohaska said the potential historic status of the Gates Hotel property was not considered when the Common Council voted Jan. 10 for the first part of the Planned Unit Development, including the Gates Hotel’s demolition, and a discussion of the building’s historic status didn’t take place during the council’s Jan. 24 meeting.

“We’ve been talking to the state about how important the Gates Hotel property is,” he said. “This building was not to be demolished until January, at the Plan Commission meeting.

“There are four buildings left in the downtown commercial district that are still standing from early history. This is one of those.”

Prohaska said Platteville was founded at the Gates Hotel property: “This is ground zero. … This isn’t just Platteville. This is much bigger. This is the Michigan Territory.”

Prohaska asked the commission to delay voting, or to remove the Gates Hotel property from the project “to give it time to make determination at the state and federal level” as to whether the property should be placed on a state or national historic-place register.

District 4 Ald. Ken Kilian made a similar request in a letter in The Journal last week. But Common Council President Eileen Nickels said only council members who vote in favor can request reconsideration, and Kilian was the only No vote in the council’s PUD approval Jan. 10.

“Unless the council reverses its previous decision, all this discussion is null and void,” said Carroll.

“I don’t think we’re doing our due diligence as a commission if we don’t take time to determine” the building’s historical significance, said Loeffelholz. “I’m concerned about tearing down an old building.”

General Capital’s Sig Strautmanis said his group had planned to use the building, but after professionals looked at the building “they frankly scared the pants off me with what this would cost,” after which “the parking concern frankly took priority.”

Parking grew by six spaces through a change in access between Water Street and Oak Street, changing a lane from one-way to two-way. The project now has carports along Pine Street after comments about the view of the backs of buildings to the north.

Strautmanis said not using the building for parking would reduce parking by 15 to 20 spaces, leaving on-site parking at one space per unit.

“We would like to keep moving,” he said, adding he needed approval by April 15. “I understand your concern, and I’d like it to be vetted.”

“That’s my concern,” said Nall. “If we reduce the number of parking spaces and you still have the hotel, then with rental units you’re going to have to have parking space for those rental units” as well as parking for a first-floor business.

“You have a developer with a timeline, and you have no timeline … of whether that’ll be decided historic or not.”

Prohaska said the process of determining the building’s historic status had already begun in asking for a month delay. But Carroll said the determination process, according to the state, “can take up to 1½ years. … If you’re really going to be serious about this, it’s going to be more than a month.”

Commission member Jeremy Johnson said he had talked to 40 people since last weekend, and none favored keeping the hotel.

“In my opinion [the project] still does not have enough parking spaces, and this reduces it even more” without demolishing the hotel for parking, he said. “Parking needs to be at the forefront of our concern.

“If that building stays there, I do not support this project at all. … We have too many apartments downtown for the parking.”

“Why don’t we take that month to figure out what we can do?” asked MacDowell. “It doesn’t seem like our developer is sweating a month.”

“I’d sweat it if we didn’t get approval,” said Strautmanis.

Nickels said there had been “multiple discussions” about the project since the city purchased the property. “The time is now getting to the point where it’s critical for the developer to move forward,” she said.

The city purchased the five properties late last year for $982,426. The city got a grant of up to $150,000 for environmental analysis and remediation, and a Community Development Block Grant of up to $500,000 to go toward the purchase and demolition of the buildings. The purchase and demolition was also partly funded through the city’s downtown TIF 7.

Carroll said the site had “not any major concerns, but there are some known contaminants.”

If the council approves the Specific Implementation Plan and financing and tax credits are approved, Strautmanis said construction could begin in late summer or the fall.