When the Village of Walbridge in May began holding informal meetings over coffee with local business owners, the idea was to use the monthly sessions to listen to owners’ concerns and thoughts on how the village can provide a better environment for the businesses.
One issue that’s been discussed is the condition of some buildings on and near Main Street.
“One idea that is strongly supported by the business community, but not quite as well supported by council yet, is the purchase and demolition of several old buildings in town that are not in good repair,” said Mayor Dan Wilczynski. “The idea is to demolish them and create green permeable parking areas to serve our existing and new businesses.”
The mayor said he plans to pursue the issue with council, adding that more parking would benefit businesses such as The Skillet restaurant, which has been remodeled and opened recently under new ownership, and a banquet hall operated by the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post.
The village had submitted a bid last year to purchase a vacant building on Main Street, at the corner of Main and Union Street, with the intent to raze it and convert the land into a parking lot, but a sale wasn’t completed.
Ed Kolanko, who chairs council’s finance committee, last week said vacant buildings have been discussed in his committee and the infrastructure building and lands committee but council members generally agree the cost of purchasing the buildings, razing them, and improving the parcels for parking is too costly.
Pat Fox, chairman of the building and lands committee, echoed that sentiment.
He said preliminary estimates just for purchasing two buildings on the east side of Main Street have been in the range of $90,000.
There will be another vacant building in the village with the closing of Walbridge Elementary School as part of an austerity measure approved by the Lake school board. Students at the school will be attending Lake Elementary School in the fall.
Nathan Eikost, a former school board member who chairs village council’s economic development committee, asked other council members during their April 18 meeting to consider if it is feasible for the village to acquire the building, which is located at 200 E. Union Street.
Mayor Wilczynski said the school building has been discussed by village officials but it isn’t a priority.
“We are, of course, very concerned with having another vacant building in town,” he said. “As soon as the school board is ready to discuss the options we will be working with them. Right now their focus is on the opening of the new high school.”
According to figures from the school district treasurer’s office, closing the school will translate into an annual loss of about $8,000 to the village in municipal income taxes.
The mayor remains optimistic village-owned property on the western edge of the village will attract business investment.
Council last month approved an ordinance to sell 12.75 acres on East Broadway for $96,625 to Thomas Kepler, who plans to open a truck maintenance facility.
“We are continuing to reach out where we can to new businesses,” Wilczynski said.