Wisconsin credit union sells REO property, demolition expected

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Blackhawk Community Credit Union sold the decrepit former Town and Country restaurant in downtown Janesville, Wis., to a new group of owners who plan to demolish and clear the property for "mixed use" redevelopment.

Janesville resident Oakleigh Ryan, who recently bought the five-storefront set of buildings at 14-24 S. River St., on Wednesday confirmed that she and a "small group" of silent partners now own the property. They plan to demolish the ailing buildings, which have been under city raze-or-repair orders since late 2018.

State Department of Revenue real estate transfer records show Blackhawk on May 29 sold the buildings to a real estate holding partnership, Rock Renaissance Partnership, for $165,000. The state records list Ryan as the buyer.

The circa-1890s storefronts are near the epicenter of recent public and private revitalization along the downtown's riverfront, but the former Town and Country has been mostly vacant and increasingly in disrepair since 2014.

Ryan has been a vocal proponent of downtown revitalization and is on the executive committee of ARISEnow, a group that is leading private-sector revitalization along the riverfront, including the ARISE Town Square, which is across the street from the former Town and Country.

Ryan said her group is pursuing redevelopment options at the site and a "preliminary market analysis" shows the downtown could support a new "mixed use" development.

She said her group bought the former Town and Country to ensure the parcels would be positioned to become part of the riverfront revitalization.

"We wanted to make sure that property was in the control of folks who really had focus on the downtown's revitalization and everything that has gone into it," Ryan said.

"We have to be really strategic about downtown, and we have been. After investing all this money in the redevelopment of our town square, people want to make sure that our key places are in the right hands and cared for with the right interest. We've got to get it right."

It's the fourth time since 2014 the building has changed hands.

Blackhawk's former CEO, Sherri Stumpf, said last fall the property was slated for demolition and the credit union was working to find a developer who might buy the property for possible commercial or residential redevelopment.

In May, City Manager Mark Freitag told The Gazette he had been told the property was close to selling. He said it was likely the property would be demolished sometime in July.

Ryan said that part of her group's due diligence in buying the property was that it formed a "safe and thoughtful demolition plan."

"That was a key requirement from the city," she said.

The property has languished for years, gutted inside and in disrepair outside and inside. The city in 2014 had sought to buy the former restaurant building, likely to tear it down to create more downtown parking.

But Janesville couple Travis and Jennifer O'Connell outbid the city and bought the property.

The O'Connells gutted much of the first floors in 2015 and planned to put a new restaurant in part of the building.

Those plans stalled and ultimately fell through. The city in 2018 placed raze-or-repair orders on the property. City building officials said the property, which had been stuck in disarray and saddled with unfinished interior construction for three years, was structurally deficient.

In 2019, Blackhawk Community Credit Union bought the property in lieu of foreclosure after a deal by the O'Connells to sell the property to a California developer fell through.

Stumpf waffled last year on whether the building could be saved, but the credit union's board ultimately decided the building had enough structural problems that it should be razed.

Stumpf at the time said demolition could pave the way for the property to become part of an ongoing revival along River Street, including the credit union's plans to develop the Legacy Center, a local General Motors memorabilia museum planned inside the former First National Bank.

But in March, the credit union abruptly announced it was suspending the Legacy Center project. At that time, the credit union also signaled it was selling off the former Town and Country.

Demolition seemed close at hand last fall, when Stumpf said she'd allowed relatives of the former Town and Country's operators to pay a final visit in the building for posterity.

Stumpf last fall allowed the Janesville Fire Department to use the inside of the doomed building for tactical training.

Stumpf at the time said demolition was imminent. But this spring, the building was still standing, and Stumpf had departed as the credit union's CEO, a leadership change the credit union has repeatedly declined to publicly explain.

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