A Main Street property owner’s quest to put a shot of life back into downtown Mitchell received the approval of the Planning and Zoning Commission Monday at City Hall.
The plan entails rehabilitating the 401 N. Main St. building, formerly known as the Fabric and Textile Warehouse, into a modern office and retail space. The change would allow for three tenants, each with their own entrance to the 6,722-square-foot building.
Herm Harms, Puetz Corporation architect, spoke on behalf of the property owner and unveiled details of the plan to renovate the 79-year-old old building. Jeff Danielson, owner of the Main Street property, has chosen Puetz as the contractor to fulfill the renovation plan, should it be approved by the Mitchell City Council at a later date.
“They are remodeling the interior to reinforce the structure so the roof doesn’t fall into the basement,” Harms said, noting the roof as the primary issue of the building’s structural integrity. “The client is willing to put the money into reinforcing the roofing structure to hopefully provide some tenant space on Main Street, which would bring it back to be a usable building.”
According to Harms, two structural engineer reports have deemed the building unsafe for inhabiting, citing the failing roof structure as the primary reason. The reports indicated that the original design of the roof, along with the roof trusses, are overstressed, which could cause the roof to cave in during a potential snowstorm this upcoming winter.
Although the plan was unanimously approved, it was met with some reluctance at first, which garnered extensive discussion among the Planning Commission.
The primary concern among the board was awaiting the plan’s official review from the State Historical Society and Mitchell Area Historical Society. Because the building is deemed historic, it must be reviewed by the local and state historical societies before the City Council has the final say in approving the plan.
However, Harms said staying within the guidelines of the State and local historical societies requests can be unreasonably difficult at times. In addition, Harms emphasized the Planning Commission’s ability to approve the recommendation of the renovation plan regardless of whether both historical societies sign off on the plan.
Harms provided details on some of the renovations that are designed to comply with maintaining the historic nature of the building. Harms said installing new glass and glazing on the portions of the building facing Main Street would help maintain the historic look of the building. In addition, the unique rounded corner of the building that wraps around Main Street and Fourth Avenue would remain.
“They added a few new windows on the south side, along with doors for the new tenants,” Harms said. “They’re making strong attempts to preserve the historic nature. The existing glazed, porcelain panels on the corner of the building facing Main Street would be replaced with metal panels.”
John Hegg, the city’s building inspector, acknowledged Harms' sentiment toward the challenges of complying with the historical societies' requests, adding he’s witnessed plenty of struggles with property owners' quests to renovate historic buildings.
“I’ve gotten into a couple battles with them before, and I understand preserving the historic nature of a building,” Hegg said of the State Historical Society. “Whether they approve it or not, at the end of the day it’s going to better our community, and it’s going to promote progress and commerce in our city.”
But due to the structural engineer's report stating the roof would likely collapse in the event of a snowstorm as early as the winter, Harms stressed the urgency of the plan moving forward as swiftly as possible.
“The client has made it clear if he’s not allowed to make a reasonable attempt at saving this building, it won’t survive another winter,” Harms said on behalf of the property owners. “If the historical societies don’t approve the recommendation and then the Planning Commission will base its decision off that, the city will have another hole in downtown Mitchell. The client said they are willing to sell it back to the city for $1, but that’s clearly not the goal.”
In order for the State Historical Society to determine whether the plan is recommended, City Attorney Justin Johnson said the Mitchell City Council will ultimately decide to approve the plan once a motion is made by the commission. Commission member Kevin Genzlinger initially made a motion for the building rehabilitation plan to be reviewed and approved by the local and state historical societies before recommending the plan at the commission level.
“To get through the State Historical Society process the decision will ultimately have to come back to the City Council to make a final determination,” Johnson said. “I think if the council will make a motion to complete that process before the Planning Commission approves, it would put us in a catch-22.”
In light of Johnson’s information, Genzlinger’s motion died due to lack of a second. Johnson also backed Hegg’s claims of how strict the State Historical Society’s guidelines are when it comes to renovating or repairing a historic building.
“Most remodeling or renovation efforts end up meeting the criteria of infringing on the historic character of the building,” Johnson said.
The property owner’s plan now awaits the state and local historical societies to complete their review and submit it to the Mitchell City Council, which Harms said could take up to a month. With the commission’s approval of recommendation, the council will have the final say in whether the Main Street renovation project will come to life once the historic societies reviews are complete.
“They’ve done their homework; they’ve done their engineering. They’re doing it the right way,” Hegg said.