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Shared-wall demolition begins at VFW-Longhorn

Pictured here is the upper floor of a shared wall that connects the former Longhorn Bar to the VFW Lounge. Demolition of the former Longhorn has been delayed because of the shared wall's instability. (Jordan Steffen/Republic)

As the effort to demolish their unstable shared wall slowly resumes, local Veterans of Foreign Wars leaders are sending a message to their members: Make some noise.

"There's not any action we can take now except to attend the City Council meeting next Monday," said Pat Ziegler, the post commander, in a Wednesday interview. "We're kind of waiting."

A Tuesday VFW meeting, which Ziegler said was full of anger and high emotion, drew 25 members.

"We see this job site day after day and see not much going on," Ziegler said. "It doesn't seem like a priority to anybody."

The job site is the VFW Lounge's shared wall with the former Longhorn Bar building in downtown Mitchell. The demolition of the 134-year-old former Longhorn, which was believed to be the oldest structure in Mitchell, began May 14. It came to a halt two days later when it was discovered that a shared wall -- which is approximately 80 feet long and connects the former Longhorn to the VFW Lounge -- is unstable and in danger of collapsing. Demolition work has been on hold since the discovery, and temporary supports have been left in place.

Meanwhile, the VFW Lounge has been closed for a month because of safety concerns, with no clear indication of when it will reopen.

The VFW voted June 4 in favor of removing the second story of the shared wall to reduce the risk of the building collapsing, and to possibly allow the VFW to reopen. Work to tear down the second-floor portion of the wall began Tuesday, but came to a halt when concerns arose from Jared Balvin, owner of Ironman Construction, of Tyndall, about possible damage that could occur to the VFW building. Mayor Ken Tracy had Balvin meet with architect Larry Jirsa, and the project will now be completed almost entirely by hand, instead of using a backhoe.

The second-floor wall is estimated to take several weeks to demolish. The city will pay the full $28,000 cost to take down the second-floor portion of the wall.

"He has promised to take extreme care and caution to minimize any damage," Tracy said.

After viewing the VFW post's May financial report, which Ziegler called "horrible and unsustainable," Ziegler is more impatient than ever to reopen the lounge. He said it might take three months to recover the funds lost from being closed a single month.

"When I got the report from our bookkeeper, he said, 'we're dying a slow death,' " Ziegler said.

Meanwhile, VFW members have launched efforts to begin raising funds, including posting a video to Facebook and YouTube on Monday morning detailing their plight. The video has thousands of views, and fundraising efforts have brought in $2,000 so far. The post hopes to raise as much as $50,000.

"We just have to fight this battle on every front and hope the people are generous," Ziegler said. "But the initial response has been great from the people in town."

Ziegler plans to speak at the Mitchell City Council meeting on Monday.

"I'm sure we're going to have something to say," Ziegler said. "Even if we're not on the agenda, we still will have something to say. We have to."

Tracy said the VFW is on the agenda for the Monday council meeting, and the VFW was given the opportunity to bring concerns forward at the June 3 meeting.

"I think that we have kept them apprised of everything that has been done," Tracy said.

Tracy said there was an hour-long discussion at the June 3 council meeting about the VFW's situation.

"We have gone out of our way to work with the VFW, and we will continue to do that," Tracy said.