Stonewall/Leischner Building update

Recap of Sept actions: 

In the council meeting in September, there was discussion about selling the old bowling alley lot to the owner of the Stonewall Bar. We attended the meeting in support for her plan to build a new building, and advocate for saving the current Stonewall building. We were very concerned by the minutes of  June and August which contained discussions of proposals to demolish the current bar building due to the facade collapse in May.

Primarily, our concerns are economic reasons, and because it endangers the redevelopment plans for the school we have begun putting together, as we await the completion of the final construction planning report, a required document prior to beginning any construction grant work on a historic building.  We thought it was odd to hear such a quick push to demolish, when the repair needs are estimated less than the cost of demolition, and we can’t see anyone spending likely close to $75,000 for a lot with a lien on it as was suggested in the minutes. We believe its not an efficient use of tax dollars. The potential tax base of a two-story building is higher than an empty lot. In the long run it is just too expensive to be tearing down buildings unless absolutely necessary, for both environmental and economic reasons- especially when we could use the added housing in Jasper. Historic buildings older than 1950’s are all eligible for grants, and research says they last twice as long as new construction when renovated, and are equally or more energy efficient.

In addition, our organization is right here working for this very purpose already, and we expressed willingness to help in this situation too. The more we work together, the more we accomplish.  It is a priority to keep these buildings standing as part of a historic district so any downtown business owner can be eligible for grants even if they don’t have a building on the National Register.  These are plenty of good reasons to oppose demolition on a financial basis, let alone that it also represents the city’s pride and heritage. “Home of the Quartzite”.

 At the September meeting when the Council expressed interest in purchasing the buildings on either side of the empty lot, to demolish also, we were disappointed again. Losing three buildings would definitely endanger our chance of a historic district, losing the retail spaces and apartment potential, and the loss of potential grant funding for more of the community. In the grand scheme of architecture, these buildings are rare because of the stone as well as the construction style and how rare a skill that is. 

The October agenda had a closed hearing listing the bowling alley lot property transfer, which we thought could affect the old building’s fate, and in New Business, it listed the proposals regarding the two other old buildings. 

Tuesday October 2021:
Watch the October Council meeting here: 

When the Jasper city council meeting resumed on 10-12-2021 after a closed session, Jasper attorney – Ben Denton, gives a summary of the closed meeting portion. (summary follows)

A couple of years ago, and I did not know this a couple years ago, I came upon it here, very recently, looking through paperwork. There was a contract for sale/purchase of this bowling alley property across the street here, from between the Jasper Development Corporation and the city of Jasper for $30,000. I looked into it more – the statutes section 471.87, 471.88, 471.89, there are some contracts between a city and others that are not valid under the law, even if the people who should abstain, did abstain. And also some of those contracts that are not valid under the law can’t be cured after the fact. A lot of them can but some of them can not. This is one of them that is a void contract under the law and under the law it can’t be cured after the fact, either. So my recommendation was, I can’t recommend, and I can’t make anybody do anything, but that transaction should be undone. There was never a deed for from the city to the JDC, I may have said that the other way around, but umm, the JDC to the city, [inaudible] so that didn’t happen.  My recommendation is they cancel the contract, undo it for the reasons not legally valid [inaudible] it can’t be made legally valid. And I don’t think, I genuinely don’t think anybody had any intent to do anything here that was not above board [inaudible]. It’s tempting to think, I mean I’m a suspicious kind of person [inaudible: I’ll admit] I always tend to think well everybody’s got an ulterior motive. I genuinely don’t think there was here. The Jasper Development Corporation is not run for profit, it’s a non-profit corporation [inaudible] but in spite of that when something is not legally valid, it’s not legally valid, so that was my recommendation to the council. That’s my brief summary of why [inaudible]. (Ben Denton then sits down and council votes). 

The transfer of the lot from the JDC to the City was invalid. Meaning it was not legal; and there was no deed. In violation of MN Statutes 471.87,471.88, 471.89.  

 In the last few months, the bowling alley transfer/demolition plan was one of the things we have been questioning, because it just didn’t seem to make financial sense when you know what we know about the value of preservation to a community. After we started asking these questions publicly, bullying and gossip started being spread on our social media posts. Comments are coming from people who have not come to our fundraisers, meetings, volunteer work-days, nor talked to the board or volunteers about our work. These people don’t have a problem with a city that did a property transfer  

When something a government agency is doing looks fishy, aren’t you supposed to ask about it? I think it is important for citizens to exercise their civic duty and rights to put democracy in action. There was a problem, and it got fixed. If citizens aren’t participating regularly, attending meetings and staying in tune, then they won’t notice problems before they become bigger. I’d imagine that things like an invalid contract could cause legal issues down the road for future transfers?

Due to that reversal, there was no longer any reason for the city to consider the proposals to buy and demolish the Variety Store and Flooring buildings. 

We reiterate that we support the Stonewall Bar building a new restaurant if they choose. There’s no reason new can’t be safely built next to old if you do it carefully, it is being done in literally every city nearly every day.
You can be PRO preservation and also PRO new construction. Yet some people are still accusing us of trying to “block” that project when we have no intention to do so.
It’s interesting that a handful of people would be more upset at our questions than the mayor’s insinuations and name calling in a public meeting.

As far as being called “carpetbaggers”, well, it’s not really an insult when you consider that I am a fourth-generation German immigrant to Jasper. My great-grandfather brought his carpetbags to Jasper over 120 years ago and the house he built still stands 6 miles west of town today. I was born here and I went to school here. Not only that, five of our board members live in Jasper and most are graduates as well. I’ll carry my carpetbag with pride in my community.

I think bystanders using social media to spread accusations and bully those who raise genuine concerns is uncalled for. Isn’t it everyone’s duty to ask the government to work for the greater good as much as possible? Aren’t citizens supposed to show up and ask their city the tough questions, and give out ideas and opinions, especially when something will increase the taxpayers’ burdens? Getting elected comes with a responsibility to take citizen concerns seriously, and trying to set personal feelings aside. It works best if instead of making assumptions or gossiping, just ask the source, like when citizens show up at council meetings.  It’s the only way issues can be resolved. Being fearful of new ideas and people can make people feel unwelcome, especially when you decide not to give them chance right from the get-go, let alone after 5 years of successful progress towards the end goals. We deserved a chance just as much as any other local volunteer group does, and we have been consistently successful. Bullying and false accusations say more about the bully, than it does the target.

Lastly, for those assuming we called anyone “uneducated”, you misread our words. If you read the open letter again, you will see that is a misquote.  We said “the people who are making the decisions about tearing down these buildings are not educated in preservation trades.”

 That statement is an observation of fact, based on 5 years of experience in this field, and searching for those professionals around the region. It’s not about intelligence level, it’s about finding people with a specific set of skills and training, like the difference between a regular doctor and a surgeon.
 No one on the council or any public boards in the city have certificates in preservation trade skills or historic property development, that I am aware of.
Why is that specialty certification important? Because then people will be less likely to make assumptions about whether a building is worth fixing or not based on appearance instead of relying on the most accurate cost analysis.
When you ask the people with specific expertise, you get more accurate bids and assessments of conditions, and less surprises. It’s like if you have an issue with a fuel pump in your car, you probably won’t ask a bike mechanic for advice. Would you ask a grain farmer for advice on lambing season? No.
You’d ask the people who have the right experience for the job. Our point is, you risk spending tens of thousands in unnecessary costs if you don’t get all the information and most accurate costs before making an extreme, expensive decision like razing a building, which can not be undone. 

Using modern construction techniques on traditional old buildings without understanding the construction style of the old building and why it was designed that way before modern HVAC, can actually create more problems for the owners to fix in the long run and the work probably won’t last as long. In addition, if you don’t ask these kinds of specialists, your cost projections will be higher, because modern new construction tends to have about twice the materials costs as preservation work, on average. Why pay more if you can save that much?

When you look at the data before making a decision, it helps you make better informed decisions, and you realize there is zero reason we can’t have historic buildings and new construction co-existing in the same community. We need both. But we get the biggest change in tax revenue if we save every reason we already have, that can bring people and jobs to town. Historic preservation is one of the greatest job creators of all, and these buildings will be great work for more carpenters and masons. 

The reason we want the right people trained in preservation to decide when it’s worth it to fix old buildings, is that two-story buildings on main street have the potential of apartments, which dramatically increases the tax value to the county. That means more money for roads, schools, and all the things we enjoy. If they are torn down, there is almost no chance of anyone building a two-story building with that same tax base potential, and certainly not if the lots also cost taxpayers $75,000 to clear. 

That’s a financial drain on a city. 

If you put that same amount into fixing the masonry at the Stonewall building, then you’d have a structurally sound, restored facade, plus money left for other repairs, or putting in second story lofts. Alternatively, if a nonprofit like us does it, we can get grant money to fix the structural part and then use community development loans to finance the remaining repairs to improve it, put in apartments, or sell it to another person in the community who wants to finish it.

This creates opportunities for a lot of people. It saves the community tons and increases revenue and businesses. There is no reason why we can’t use our unique local feature of Quartzite to help fund all of the necessary repairs to our buildings, and main street, as well as creating an attraction that people want to visit. All that extra income creates the ability to get more sales taxes returned to the city, more events in town, and more money for every business and better property values. 
It makes sense, economically, environmentally, and culturally.
We continue to advocate for preservation of these places, writing grants, and developing more plans, (like preservation trades hands-on classes, walking tours, and summer events next year). We hope more people support this mission to get Jasper some much deserved attention and invest in places that also attract more businesses, jobs and opportunities. The reason a lot of people aren’t aware of the extent of what we have been accomplishing and planning? Because we don’t have a big budget for fancy and expensive marketing to sent out all the time. Because we chose to invest our funds into caring for the buildings and writing grant applications, and hosting fundraisers. And, because it is hard to be patient. Preservation, architectural and engineering design work and construction specs and estimates are not visible to people on the outside. Large projects take time, and it also takes time to collect the right team of people for all these moving pieces, and manage the assets and funding sources. 

Instead of jumping to conclusions, assuming the worst, or repeating gossip from people who aren’t working with our organization, you could approach us respectfully and ask questions for better understanding of the projects. We would prefer to move these plans along faster, but it isn’t gonna happen until more people switch from complaining to pitching in with ideas and willingness to help.  

Our Facebook page is littered with posts about our fundraisers, how much we made, and what projects we accomplished. People spreading rumors have the facts to correct them right on our blog, yet continue to make wild accusations.

Instead of being impatient with how long our project is taking,  want to speed up the pace?
Volunteer to help with event planning, marketing and outreach, find donors, volunteer at a fundraiser, be an investors and resources.

If you have the time to complain, you have the time to do something to help solve the problem. 

One of the best things about the council meeting was meeting the new owners of the Variety Store, Joe and Kizzy Clem. They were a really friendly, knowledgeable couple that we have noticed have been making many improvements to the cute little shotgun building, and we are so happy to hear about their renovation work they’ve done to fix the roof, start repointing the masonry, and fix the facade. We are thrilled that they are taking such great care of the building, which they plan to open for lease in a few months or so. I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out. (A coffee shop would be a fantastic option for town in a spot like that!)
Does anyone else have memories of going in there and buying penny candies with money from the prize box from piano lessons at Veva’s?   I hear that some people, (Fuzzy?) might have stories about a raccoon who liked to snitch candy bars out of the store, if I recall correctly??  If you see him around, maybe ask!

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