Mitchell VFW confronts another battle
Mitchell Veterans of Foreign Wars Commander Pat Ziegler quietly listened Monday night at City Hall as his group’s move to a new location downtown was criticized by neighboring business owners.
“This is one more battle in a long string of battles we’ve had to go through in the last couple years,” Ziegler said in an interview Tuesday with The Daily Republic.
The Mitchell City Council voted Monday night to delay the transfer of the VFW’s retail on-sale liquor license from its old address, 105 N. Main St., to its new address, 215 N. Main St. Two downtown business owners — Jim Johnston, owner of Harve’s Sports Shop, 213 N. Main St., and Jan Christensen, owner of Ben Franklin Crafts, 223 N. Main St. — spoke against the transfer at Monday night’s meeting. They expressed concerns that a bar moving in nearby will harm their businesses.
Ziegler attended Monday night’s meeting but did not speak.
“I thought it was appropriate to hold my breath,” Ziegler said.
Johnston said a bar moving next to his business could have an adverse effect, especially with bar patrons smoking outside the VFW, forcing his customers to walk near smokers. Ziegler acknowledged the concern, but said a space behind the new building, away from Main Street, will be available to smokers.
“We don’t like smokers in front of our building either, but our patrons smoke,” Ziegler said.
Johnston said Monday night that he was turned down three different times when he asked to meet with the VFW’s membership to discuss his concerns. Ziegler said he has personally talked with Johnston twice about the issues.
The council’s decision to delay the transfer of the VFW’s liquor license was made to allow more time for the two sides to meet. Ziegler said the VFW is already arranging meetings, but he questions whether the meetings will be productive.
“My inclination is that no matter what we tell them or how we try to appease them, it’s not going to make any difference,” he said.
Ziegler said he was surprised by the council’s decision, but expects the council will approve the transfer of the license at its next meeting, scheduled for Feb. 3.
State law only allows a governing body to approve or deny transfers of retail liquor licenses based on whether it “deems the applicant a suitable person to hold the license,” and whether it “considers the proposed location suitable.”
“Our plan is to be good neighbors,” Ziegler said.
The VFW’s old building was damaged during the demolition of the old Longhorn Bar, with which it shared a common wall. The council approved the city’s purchase of the damaged VFW building for $175,000 in September.
The VFW’s membership later voted to approve their own purchase of a building located at 215 N. Main St., which was occupied by Prairie Breeze Gallery, an art gallery and gift shop. According to Ziegler, the VFW purchased the property for approximately $79,000, less than half the amount it was paid by the city for its old building.
Most of the remaining money will likely be used to partially renovate the building, Ziegler said.
“We’re going to be lucky if there is anything left over,” he said.
Ziegler answered statements made Monday night by Council Vice President Dan Allen, who accused the VFW of misrepresenting which property it intended to buy with the money from the sale of its old building.
Allen announced his resignation from the council last month because he is moving to a new home out of his ward, which is located in southeast Mitchell. Monday night was Allen’s final council meeting.
“Mr. Allen, with all due respect, wasn’t part of our internal process and decision making,” Ziegler said.
In November, Ziegler confirmed in a published interview with The Daily Republic that the VFW’s membership had voted in favor of buying the building at 215 N. Main St. two months earlier, rather than the former Cherrybees building, which was also considered. At the time, Ziegler said he declined to reveal the membership’s vote immediately because of ongoing negotiations involving the property.
“To accuse us of swindling money out of the city is very unfair and I thought very inappropriate,” he said.
The old Longhorn — which was believed to be the oldest surviving building in Mitchell — was deemed unsafe after a wall collapse in November 2011. The city bought the building for $1 from the owner, Jason Bates, who said he couldn’t afford to repair or demolish the building on his own. He moved his business across the street.
Demolition of the former Longhorn began May 14 but was halted two days later when it was discovered the building’s shared wall with the VFW building was unstable. The VFW was forced to close for more than a month as a result of the situation.
The city intends to demolish the VFW building, which is located near the proposed site of a new city hall.