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Friday, 13 June 2014 00:00

City council gives historic gas station a reprieve until September

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The former gas station located at 101 Franklin St. across from the city hall building was set to be demolished until local preservationist Richard Snyder convinced the city council to give interested parties until Sept. 1 to come up with a plan to save the building. The former gas station located at 101 Franklin St. across from the city hall building was set to be demolished until local preservationist Richard Snyder convinced the city council to give interested parties until Sept. 1 to come up with a plan to save the building. Dan Plutchak/staff

JANESVILLE -- Richard Snyder already has helped save one historic building in Janesville and now hopes to help restore another that’s been a downtown landmark for years.

Snyder wants to restore the former gas station located at 101 Franklin St., across from the city hall building. The Janesville City Council was set to approve demolition of the building, but Snyder asked the council for time to submit a plan to save the structure.

Council members voted 6-1 to give Snyder, or any other interested party, until Sept. 1 to present a plan for the facility.

Snyder’s interest in preservation came about with his recent involvement with the campaign to restore the historic chapel located in Oak Hill Cemetery. Renovations on that project began this week.

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Snyder said he would like to restore the exterior and interior of the downtown gas station, which would include recarpeting work, restoring windows, replacing the front door, repainting walls, repairing the roof and installing new lights. He said several residents have offered to volunteer to help him with the project.

“Hopefully, we can save it after September, and I can get it secured so I can start fixing it up and bring people to help do the work,” Snyder said. “It would put people to work. It would be a community thing.”

The gas station opened for business in 1930. The building was featured in the book “Filler Up: Glory Days of Wisconsin Gas Stations,” which was published in 2008.

Snyder said he would like to rent the building from the city and use it as classroom space for woodworking and stained-glass repair workshops.

“It would be a community use,” Snyder said. “I would like to use it as a learning center for high school students or maybe a summer school for kids, even kids from Project 16:49 could spend a couple of hours a day and be creative.”

Instructors from local colleges and universities also have offered to teach classes at the building.

“I have a lot of people who would like to get involved. I have a lot of people from the University of Wisconsin-Rock County to get involved,” Snyder said. “I have teachers who want to teach math who would donate their time. It would be a great thing for the community. I can’t do it all myself, so I would welcome other teachers that would want to get involved and help and volunteer, too.”

Janesville City Council member Doug Marklein said the workshops would be an appropriate use of the building. He said such programs could help more residents become interested in the arts.

“I think it’s an intriguing and creative idea,” Marklein said. “I think it would help the arts community in Janesville. It could be used by people of all ages. People would be able to learn skills in the creative arts.”

Snyder said it would cost about $80,000 to repair the roof and about $100,000 to restore the interior and exterior of the building. Tax incremental financing money might be available as well.

Snyder said he also plans to establish a GoFundMe.com page and a Kickstarter.com page to help raise money for the project. Snyder said after being able to raise money to restore the chapel, he said he feels he would be able to obtain funding for the gas station project.

“Most of the money we raised for the chapel came from individuals and residents who donated $10 here, $20 here or $50 here,” Snyder said. “It shows the support that the city had for it, and a lot of people didn’t know that it existed. It’s been a good journey and it’s continuing, and now we’re starting the restoration (on the chapel). Hopefully in September, I can say, ‘Give me the keys (to the gas station). I’m ready.’”

The city purchased the building in 2007 and planned to tear it down for future expansion of the police station.

Gale Price, building and development services manager, said the concern with leasing the building is what would happen when it comes time to expand the police station.

“There’s not a lot of options for the police station other than redesigning,” Price said. “That’s a concern, because a future city council may not want to pay for a redesign because of potential added costs. A future council may not look at that building the same way that this council looks at it.’

Snyder said if he is able to obtain the building, he would move his operations out of the facility once the city would need it for expansion of the police station.

“I’d be happy to rent it for 10 years and move on when the city needed it,” Snyder said.

Council member Matt Kealy said he hopes efforts to save the building are successful.

“I don’t see the immediate need to demolish the structure,” Kealy said. “I don’t think the costs to restore the building are as high as the original estimates. I think the city could be a role model in saving a historic building. I would like to see the building saved.”

Marklein said he would like to see the building restored to its original appearance.

“I think it would be nice if (Snyder) could pull it off. It would be nice if he could make the building look like the gas station of yesteryear,” Marklein said. “I think it would be good for the downtown. The city has given him until the end of summer to work out a lease agreement and come up with a plan.”

“Anything that’s allowed downtown would be appropriate. The building would have to be rehabilitated based on use,” Price said. “For example if the building would become a restaurant or bar with an occupancy of more than 99 people, then the building would have to require a sprinkler system, which would be a significant expense. We would have to look at factors of what would go into the building.”

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