Hoping this plan becomes reality
I have a lot of plans for getting some projects done.
Projects at home, projects at work.
I want to build some things, repair a few others. Clean off my desk, re-work my files, get some old paperwork completed.
I want to make my home and my office look a little nicer. Some things have gotten piled up and others need to be fixed or thrown out.
You know how it can get.
Robert Johnson has four buildings (although some say it is just three) he wants to fix up and do something with.
This week he was in Blue Earth telling many people about those plans, including the City Council.
He makes a few valid points.
He and his non-profit group from South Dakota want to not only fix these buildings up, but also restore them to their historic beauty.
A noble plan.
But, like getting my desk cleared off, we will all still have to wait and see if it will actually happen.
Johnson told the council on Monday night that his buildings are in good repair and not empty or vacant. He wants the city to quit sending him notices about the buildings needing repair and quit billing him $500 per building for being vacant.
On Tuesday he gave me a tour of the buildings.
My assessment; they are in pretty good condition. The only real damage came from city-hired inspectors who pulled down part of the ceiling when they checked the structural integrity of the building.
Much of the Three Sisters and Neglected Step Brother (as Johnson calls the four buildings) still have beautiful tin ceilings, good floors, full kitchens, nice windows, etc. Sure, they could be updated, but what old building or home couldn’t be?
And, they are not really empty or vacant.
Unused would be a better description.
They are full of pianos on the lower level, Masonic Lodge items including a magnificent organ, on the upper level. The large kitchen/dining room of the lodge still has the appliances and chairs, dishes and silverware. There are tables, chairs and office items as well.
Johnson claims his non-profit group maintains a museum on the main floor and an office on the upper floor. He is right.
But, one man’s description of a bunch of old antique items as being a museum might easily be someone else’s description of a storage unit. Especially since this museum seems to hardly ever be open.
And, keeping an old building on Main Street as a storage unit or warehouse if you will is not a permitted use according to the zoning ordinance.
Johnson says his group had always planned to not open the Three Sisters until 2012 because he was told by the city that he could not open them because Main Street was going to be worked on and he would need a handicapped-accessible entrance in the rear of the buildings.
That, of course, makes no sense to me, since every other business on Main Street has kept their front doors open for the past three years, because Main Street has not been repaired and probably still won’t be for several more years, yet.
And, I have never heard of a city telling a business they can’t open for three years.
While Johnson says his buildings are not vacant or abandoned, his group has to learn that sometimes perception is more important than reality.
With saggy, water-stained paper covering the windows for three years, and no sign of anyone coming or going, these buildings have certainly appeared to be vacant and unused.
And, after the glass windows and doors were vandalized and broken, then covered with plywood, the old, abandoned look was enhanced even more.
Now, at least, the plywood was painted this week.
But, even more important than just some paint on the front, Johnson was in Blue Earth telling the City Council, the local newspaper, and anyone else who passed by, that his group has not abandoned their plans to fix up the buildings, lease them out to businesses or organizations and rent out the living quarters in the two apartments in the upstairs of one of the buildings.
Their plan, he says, is to use that rental income to restore the three (or four) buildings to their former beauty.
They want to improve the look of the buildings, including a mural on the south side, and put the buildings to good use.
I hope he can. I really hope it happens. The whole community hopes that plan can come together.
It is good to have a plan.
That reminds me. I better go tackle that desk cleaning project.