By Neil Johnson firstname.lastname@example.org August 20, 2021 to view this article on the Janesville Gazette page click here.
A riverside property in downtown Janesville could go from languishing to linchpin.
At the moment, it’s a vacant, grassy lot on South River Street across from the redeveloped riverfront in downtown Janesville.
But by next year, a developer could transform the parcel into a 100-unit apartment complex with commercial space on the ground floor.
Impact Seven Inc., a Rice Lake-based nonprofit lender and apartment developer, has announced it intends to buy the half-block lot at 24 S. River St. that until last year had housed the former Town & Country restaurant.
Impact Seven plans to build an approximately 100-unit, six-story “workforce” apartment building, along with 10,000 square feet of anchor tenant space on the ground floor that could house retail space or commercial offices.
The project still faces review by the city of Janesville, but it would revive a lot that until last year was the location of the Town & Country storefronts.
A group of local buyers bought the property and tore down the former Town & Country in the summer of 2020, vowing to market it to a developer who would rebuild there and continue a trend of public and private revitalization along the Rock River corridor in the heart of downtown.
Michael Carlson, Impact Seven’s vice president of real estate development, said his company plans to build “mostly market-rate” apartments on the site, the type that could satisfy demand from a demographic Carlson calls the “missing middle”—working-class renters seeking but not finding many midpriced apartments either locally or regionally.
Carlson said his group intends to forward a plan for an apartment complex that includes a rooftop garden, tenant courtyard and potentially two levels of parking. The parking structure could be shared during the day as public parking for downtown shoppers and diners.
It’s the third major, multi-unit apartment development announced in downtown Janesville in the past few years, and under Impact Seven’s plans, it would represent the most apartment units in a single downtown project in decades.
Carlson said his company had been eyeing several development sites in Janesville for more than a year when it discovered last year that the former Town & Country lot was to be cleared and marketed for redevelopment.
“The River Street site just kept percolating to the top because of its strong visibility and its adjacency to the river walk there and all the activity that and all the investments that are going in along the river. It’s just got a really good, visible corner, and so it makes for an attractive place for renters and a potential commercial tenant,” Carlson said.
Impact Seven aims to close late this year on the property. Carlson said a contracting partner and his company already have been working with the city of Janesville through preliminary plans, zoning issues and other facets of real estate development.
Janesville has seen hundreds of new apartment units being built over the last year, including River Flats, a new, 92-unit affordable housing apartment complex near the Janesville Police Department. Tenants began moving in there in May.
Meanwhile, local developer Jim Grafft and a Madison-based partner intend to renovate and build out dozens of apartments in the former Monterey Hotel property on West Milwaukee Street.
Impact Seven’s development would bring the number of new apartment units built downtown over the last few years to well over 200.
The project would match what one of the former Town & Country parcel’s current owners, Oakleigh Ryan, said last year was its intended reuse: a blend of residential and commercial development. Moreover, it would capitalize on an ongoing crunch in apartment units.
Carlson said Janesville apartment vacancy rates are still tracking at about 2%—essentially full occupancy—while new job creation continues to percolate in the region. That’s a similar picture in Madison and Milwaukee—other urban markets in southern Wisconsin that Carlson said Impact Seven is now focusing on.
If Impact Seven buys the former Town & Country lot, it would be the fifth time since 2014 that the parcel has changed hands.
The former property languished for years, gutted with its facade and interior crumbling. The city in 2014 had sought to buy the former restaurant building, likely to tear it down to create more downtown parking.
A Janesville couple at that time outbid the city and bought the property. The couple gutted much of the first floors in 2015 and planned to open a new restaurant in part of the building.
Those plans stalled and ultimately fell through, and the property continued to languish.
The city in 2018 placed raze-or-repair orders on the property. City building officials said the property, which had been saddled with unfinished interior construction for three years, was structurally deficient.
Former Blackhawk Credit Union CEO Sherri Stumpf, whose credit union for a time owned the property, told The Gazette in 2019 that she believed the former Town & Country was structurally unsafe for tenants who were living in the upper apartments.
Until it was razed last summer, the property had been an eyesore along the riverfront corridor, where the city and private stakeholders since 2015 have spent millions of dollars in redevelopment on the Janesville ARISE Town Square and adjacent commercial properties.
Oakleigh Ryan, who also is a member of Forward Janesville and ARISEnow, a consortium of public and private stakeholders in downtown’s redevelopment, said Impact Seven’s purchase of the property and the project could bring maximum reuse to a pivotal property along the riverfront.
“The buildings that were the Town & Country were in a state that was not favorable or solvable. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who have just said ‘Thank you for buying that property,’ because we had shared what our vision was. People were really excited. The property’s a linchpin.”