An 11th hour proposal to convert the former Methodist Church in downtown Ladysmith into an indoor/outdoor farmers market and concert hall might not make midnight.
The proposal appears dead on arrival after being pitched last Wednesday to the city council’s Property Committee by developers John Hoover and Tony Ziesler. They suggested renovating the church now slated by the city for condemnation at county expense using about $50,000 already earmarked for constructing a new outdoor farmers market pavilion and another $90,000 estimated cost for church demolition.
The church at the southwest corner of Miner Avenue and E. Third Street was severely damaged in the 2001 Labor Day tornado. Rusk County acquired the property several years ago due to unpaid property taxes. The previous owner removed stained glass windows and generally allowed the building to deteriorate. The roof leaks. Hardwood floors have buckled from infiltrating moisture. Pigeon droppings have damaged the interior.
The city donated its share of new farmers market construction money to the non-profit Ladysmith Industrial Development Corporation, allowing the LIDC to develop a structure called Gateway Pavilion mostly out of the public’s eye near the southwest corner of Lake Avenue and E. Third Street.
The city also voted earlier this year to seek condemnation of the church, which would leave county taxpayers on the hook for the cost of razing the structure.
Ladysmith Main Street has renderings of the exterior and interior of what a church remodeled as a farmers market could look like.
Ziesler said he has pulled back from the proposal based on last week’s response, based mainly on money and future maintenance of the church if it were to be renovated.
“I am not interested because I didn’t see anyone stepping forward with any contributions. Right now, nobody is making any contributions, and nobody is making any commitments for ownership,” Ziesler said.
For the past two years, Rusk County Farmers Market vendors have operated under portable tents in the parking lot along Lake Avenue where the new Gateway Pavilion farmers market is to be built. It appears scheduled for construction next spring.
Ladysmith Mayor Alan Christianson asked during last week’s city Property Committee meeting why discussion about a significant change in new farmers market construction planning was taking place without farmers market representatives in attendance.
“Has anyone talked with them about moving it a block off the highway,” Christianson said.
Property Committee member Bonnie Stoneberg said the farmers market gets discussed every year, and now city officials are being asked at the last minute to consider something new. She added if the county wants to do the renovation then the city will be happy to see it happen.
“We are wasting critical time,” Stoneberg said. “Now that we are ready to go, they want to change it.”
Ziesler said projects like the former church renovation he and Hoover are proposing always comes down to money. He said windows in the structure could be replaced with roll-up doors for an outdoor farmers market. He also suggested other uses like other markets and concerts.
“It can be a civic center and multi-use,” Ziesler said. “You have a big enough facility to use for other venues.”
Ziesler projects it will cost $90,000 to raze the church and another $30,000 to pave it into a parking lot, if that is the ultimate plan for the church property. He believes the property can be brought back as a “fantastic renovation.”
“You are looking at a lot of money to gain 16 to 20 parking sites,” Ziesler said. “Why not put those two dollars together and build a community center that can be used by a number of community organizations?”
County Board Chairman David Willingham noted he cannot speak for the wishes of the full county board, but said he would like to see someone else take the property off the county’s hands. It currently is county-owned, and doesn’t generate any property taxes, but Willingham is not interested in giving the property away.
“The county obviously doesn’t want to tear it down and have nothing there for its investment of $100,000,” Willingham said.
Morgan & Parmley President Robert Parmley, whose company is drafting plans for the farmers market pavilion construction, told the committee it is never too late to consider another option prior to beginning construction. He said the decisions are keyed to money, and waiting only adds to costs like razing a church or building a pavilion.
“The longer we wait to bid this [pavilion], the more it is going to cost,” Parmley said.
Hoover called renovating the church far more of an undertaking than building the farmers market pavilion. He added the church would have more potential uses.
“But, it would be far more versatile,” Hoover said.
Ziesler said he proposed the church renovation after hearing the city wants to condemn the structure.
“I can’t see myself spending $150,000 and getting nothing out of it as a taxpayer,” Ziesler said.