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Vacant downtown building to become new church, signaling growth for Mitchell's Main Street

An an old vacant building in downtown Mitchell is in the process of transforming into a new church following the Planning Commission's approval on Monday.

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The 319 N. Main Street building in downtown Mitchell will soon become a new church after the Planning Commission approved the property owner's plan on Monday. (Matt Gade / Republic)

After sitting empty for nearly a decade, the 319 N. Main St. building will soon be the home of a new church.

During Monday’s meeting, the city Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved the new property owner’s plan to transform the 319 N. Main St. building into a church. The building is the former location of KORN’s radio station.

Commission member Larry Jirsa, an architect who is working with the property owner on the project, said the interior was in “rough shape” when he began working on the building. Jirsa abstained from voting on the plan approval given his involvement.

“When I was contacted by the property owner and took a look inside, there was a big mess in that building. And there were three ceilings in there in rough shape, along with junk all over the place,” Jirsa said. “It was in pretty tough shape inside.”

The building was constructed in 1904 and has changed ownership hands over the years. Despite its age, Jirsa said the extensive interior improvements that’s been done by the new property owner, Ed Waldner, has helped the building regain its aesthetics.

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“When I saw it the first time it was just kind of a bunch of junk, but when I looked at it the second time, you wouldn’t believe the improvement. It has a really nice-looking brick wall on the interior, and will keep its original form,” Jirsa said. “The only thing we really need to do for the building is add one handicap accessible toilet, and the building already has two exit ways.”

Waldner plans to hold worship services on Sunday mornings, which he said would ease potential parking issues in the downtown business district.

“We would use Main Street as our parking, and we would be gone during the business hours on Sunday, so parking shouldn’t be an issue,” Waldner said.

When the church is operating following the completion of the construction inside the building, Waldner estimates worship services would draw roughly 60 people, just shy of the building capacity that can hold up to 69 people.

Jirsa said plans of replacing a rooftop furnace and painting the interior are also on the property owner’s list of remaining improvements.

City Planner Neil Putnam noted the building is located in Mitchell’s downtown historic district, which can add more regulations in terms of structural work. However, since the improvements to the building are primarily interior, Putnam said the state and local historic preservation boards deemed it did not have to be reviewed.

“Their view was since it is primarily interior work, they were actually excited to see that it is more of a preservation project than the other way around,” Putnam said.

While a myriad of aging buildings align Main Street, Waldner’s work is just one of several preservation projects that’s helping beautify the area. Less than a block away from Waldner’s church sits a newly remodeled historic building located at 401 N. Main St. that’s nearing completion, opening another opportunity for future businesses interested in calling Main Street home.

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With the new church in the works, it’s a good sign for Mitchell’s Main Street, which has seen a slight increase in businesses moving into vacant buildings over the past several months. Among the recent downtown buildings that welcomed new businesses in the past two months includes Norm and Mark’s Barber Shop, located at 407 N. Main St. and the TLC Thrift Store that sits across the street in the Midtown Plaza Mall.

For Mayor Bob Everson, the recent activity in downtown Mitchell signals more growth to come. As the city continues repairing the former Crafty Fox building on the corner of Second Avenue and Main Street, Everson is hopeful that it will attract another business opportunity downtown.

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The 319 N. Main Street building in downtown Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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