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Rehabilitation work progresses on historic downtown Willmar,Minn., building

Joe Burch hangs Sheetrock on Tuesday in the building that was once home to John's Supper Club. The club in downtown Willmar was damaged in a fire in 1991 and never reopened. Paul Kidrowski, who owns the building, was set a deadline of Dec. 31 by the Willmar City Council to complete renovation work at the building. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

Paul Kidrowski says he plans to comply with the City Council's Dec. 31 deadline for rehabilitating the fire-damaged former restaurant building he owns in downtown Willmar.

The building located at the corner of Third Street and Benson Avenue Southwest had been the site of John's Supper Club until the structure was damaged by fire on May 15, 1991. The building dates back to the late 1880s and was used for a variety of purposes, including the longtime restaurant and second-floor apartments until the fire.

Kidrowski, owner of Paul's Electric of Willmar, acquired the building from a customer some years ago and said he intends to move his business in there. Up until recently, he's been using the building for storage.

But the slow pace of rehabilitation during the past 20 years has been a source of frustration for City Council members and city officials who have been urging Kidrowski to step up the rehab work.

The council originally set a deadline of Nov. 20, 2009, for completion and then extended the deadline by 45 days.

"We had a written agreement with Mr. Kidrowski to complete all work on the building by July 1, 2011,'' said Bruce Peterson, director of city planning and development services.

However, when it became apparent that rehabilitation would not be completed by the deadline, city staff recommended that Kidrowski's building permit be revoked and that an order for demolition be sought.

But Kidrowski received an extension from the council on July 18 after his lawyer and several friends said that he had been through some personal issues and had been unable to obtain financing, but that his bank and accountant were willing to work with him to get the rehab completed by the end of 2011.

As part of its approval, the council required Kidrowski to provide a schedule and submit written progress reports every two weeks.

Frustration with the pace of work was expressed at Monday night's council meeting. Doug Reese said he remembers supper meetings being held at John's. Reese said he agrees with council member Jim Dokken that the city needs a policy to prevent similar situations with other buildings.

"It's a long time ago and this has been something that repeatedly has been brought up even before Mr. Kidrowski owned the building, and then he bought it and then we thought something's going to get done,'' Reese said. "It's sat idle until we started pushing and that's my frustration. What other leverage do we have?''

Dokken said the council faces a decision if the work is not completed by the deadline.

Mayor Frank Yanish said he toured the building on Monday with Kidrowski and said considerable progress has been made.

"I would say that you are right in that this should be a discussion that will be held before the first of December as to what to do and how to do it if things are not done," Yanish said.

He said Kidrowski is working earnestly to get it done, but he does not believe it will be done by the end of December.

"So the council needs to be prepared to make a decision on that when the time comes. I would ask that they do that,'' Yanish said.

Ron Christianson said if Kidrowski makes substantial progress by Dec. 31, he could not see the council voting to demolish the building.

"He's at a time when he's going to be spending a chunk of money for heating, cooling, ventilating, plumbing and once that equipment gets put in place, we're talking many thousands of dollars and I personally couldn't approve of demolishing a building that's got that amount of dollars invested in it,'' he said.

Kidrowski told the Tribune on Tuesday afternoon that the project is going forward.

His office is planned for the front of the main floor area. The rear main floor area was lowered and a new concrete floor was poured to provide handicap accessibility off Benson Avenue for an apartment. Kidrowski said the roof has been repaired, big heavy columns have been replaced and interior structural work had been occurring.

Kidrowski has a small crew working with him. He feels people are misinformed about what is needed on a job. He said structural work has been progressing even though it may not be evident to the public.

"Now we're doing what appears to be faster things,'' he said, such as hanging Sheetrock, constructing a second-floor entrance, framing the walls, installing flooring for six upstairs apartments and installing new windows on the Third Street side of the building.

"It takes a lot of money to do these projects. Everything these days is expensive. My game plan is to complete the project by Dec. 31,'' he said.

"I think it's a beautiful building on the outside,'' he said. "I don't think there's many buildings built like this anymore.''

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150