City takes right step buying vacant buildings

AT LEAST THEY CAN’T be accused of being absentee property owners. The city of Plymouth is poised to purchase a second vacant downtown building on Main Street – this time the vacant building at 133 E. Mill St.

Once the City Council approves the purchase – for $16,212.63, the total in back taxes and costs due to Sheboygan County – it will become the second vacant building downtown that the city has taken possession of, with the goal of finding a private buyer who will buy and rehabilitate them.

The other one is at 31 E. Mill St., which the Redevelopment Authority is currently working on finding a buyer for to bring it back to life.

There had been high hopes for the building at 133 E. Mill St. when developer Gunther Berg purchased it several years ago. Berg was coming off a remarkable restoration of a vacant building at 411 E. Mill St., which he turned into a retail/office complex that fit in perfectly with the historic downtown area.

Unfortunately, Berg’s plans for 133 E. Mill St. got sidetracked by his involvement in other, larger projects elsewhere and derailed by the unexpected costs of bringing the Mill Street building back to life.

As a result, it continues to sit vacant and boarded up, conspicuously unused.

It could have remained that way for the unforeseeable future, but the city stepped in, beginning proceedings to have it declared blighted and clearing the way for the city to take control.

The primary reason for the city buying the building – as it did with 31

E. Mill St. - earlier – is to ensure that when it is redeveloped, it is done in accordance and harmony with the rest of downtown.

As City Administrator Brian Yerges explained to the RDA last week, 133 E. Mill St. could have been purchased now by anyone for just over $16,000. A buyer could have sought reassessment of the property at that figure, which would have significantly decreased the property tax revenues to the city for as long as a buyer wanted to hold onto the property.

Additionally, the city would have had little control on what the purchaser would do with the property in the future beyond what existing city ordinances provide.

Now, city officials can search carefully and diligently for a buyer who will revitalize the building in a way that will be consistent with the historic downtown area and add to the charm and attraction of Mill Street.

City officials also deserve credit for attempting to find developers for both Mill Street properties to keep the buildings intact and in use, producing needed tax revenue for the city and a shot in the arm for downtown business.

It would be easy for the city to buy the buildings and tear them down for parking or other incompatible uses – something that happened too often in the past in too many other places, some as close as 15 miles to the east of us.

It will likely take some time in today’s economic climate, but eventually the city should be able to find the right buyers for both buildings while keeping them around for such an eventual outcome.

At issue:
Vacant Mill Street buildings
Bottom line:
Ensurng the right future

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