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Mitchell VFW hoping to remedy concerns

Mitchell Veterans of Foreign Wars Commander Pat Ziegler is hopeful his group’s relocation downtown is on track after meeting Monday with several nearby business owners concerned about the move.

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“I had a feeling at the end of the meeting that a lot of people who came had their concerns answered,” Ziegler said in an interview Tuesday with The Daily Republic.

The Mitchell City Council voted last week 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., after two nearby business owners objected.

Jim Johnston, owner of Harve’s Sports Shop, 213 N. Main St., was one of the business owners who expressed concern about the VFW’s relocation. Johnston is worried a bar moving in next door will harm his business. At least eight downtown business owners attended Monday night’s meeting, Johnston said.

“We were able to tell them our concerns,” he said. “What I heard in response was pretty much what I thought I would hear.”

Johnston is still troubled by the idea of bar patrons smoking cigarettes outside the VFW, forcing his customers to walk past smokers.

“It would be a detriment to my customers,” Johnston said. “It’s not fair to them to have to walk through smoke to get in my building.”

Ziegler acknowledged the concern, but said a space behind the new building, away from Main Street, will be available to smokers. Still, Johnston is worried smokers will gather in front of the building and, with no law that says otherwise, he and other nearby business owners will be forced to put up with it.

“What they said was positive,” Johnston said. “I’m just concerned if that’s really going to happen.”

The VFW will install surveillance cameras on the front of its new building with the intention of deterring and capturing any bad behavior, Ziegler said.

“It’s something we’re going to do to help our neighbors feel better about having us there,” he said.

Johnston was encouraged, he said, that both sides have at least started a dialogue.

“It was good to hear that they understood our concerns and that they’re prepared to remedy them,” Johnston said. “But, I don’t know.”

Ziegler expects the council will approve the transfer of the liquor license at its next meeting, scheduled for Monday.

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.”

“Legally, I think the City Council has to grant us this,” Ziegler said. “I think it’s our obligation to work with our neighbors and address their concerns.”

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.

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.