The developer of Eau Claire wants to replace a decrepit building on Water St.
Oct. 30—EAU CLAIRE — A historic two-story building that has stood for 140 years on Water Street is in need of replacement due to deterioration and a desire to redevelop its desirable location.
Listed on the Wisconsin and United States Register of Historic Places, the Ottawa House, 602 Water Street, was built in 1882 as part of the city’s recovery from a fire.
The building is an example of “boomtown” commercial architecture, an easy-to-build frame structure distinguished by a tall rectangular facade. These types of buildings are synonymous with frontier towns in the 1800s, but were also seen in many other communities during their early development, according to the Ottawa House Archives of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
The Ottawa house’s name, ownership, and information in city directories indicate that its first floor served as a tavern for the French-Canadian residents of Eau Claire who worked in the nearby sawmills.
Its most recent use was for the Wax Paper bookstore, which disappeared years ago.
Local developer John Mogensen bought 602 Water St. in 2016 and worked to reinvest in the historic building, but ran into major issues with the old structure, according to a report from the city’s community development department.
While gutting the building’s walls and ceilings, Mogensen discovered structural problems with the foundations, walls, and joists.
In his application seeking the city’s permission to demolish the building, Mogensen noted settlement, missing pieces, and failure of various sections of the building’s foundation, which would require the removal of the first and second floors to remedy.
“You can’t fix what’s there,” he wrote.
An architect from Eau Claire who inspected the building also found it to be in poor condition.
“The foundation has failed and must be completely replaced,” Robert Johnson said in an August letter to the city.
The problems with the building were not new, however, as a report by the Eau Claire Fire Department from 1985, when the building was seeking historic status, noted that the east wall of the Ottawa House was in collapsing. The report ends by noting that the questionable structure of the building means major repairs or demolition may be required.
The current condition of the building is bad enough that the city assesses its value at only $10,000. Meanwhile, the 5,544-square-foot land it sits on along Water Street — known for its businesses and housing frequented by UW-Eau Claire students and other city residents — is worth $83,200, according to city property records.
After the city’s Landmarks Commission agreed at its September 12 meeting that the Ottawa House could be demolished, plans for a new building to replace it were filed with the city.
Joe Miller, who works for Mogensen’s Investment Realty, is proposing to build a two-story mixed-use building on the land at 602 Water St.
The ground floor will have two small commercial spaces at the front along Water Street, suitable for what is currently in high demand for Eau Claire businesses.
“Over the past three years, we’ve had a noticeable trend with commercial spaces,” Miller wrote. “Commercial tenants are looking for smaller spaces between 750 and 1,500 square feet.”
The rear half of the ground floor will consist of two two-bedroom apartments. The second level of the building will be divided into four two-bedroom apartments, according to floor plans submitted to the city.
The new building is designed to pay homage to its predecessor. Wood clapboard siding and a decorative front facade reminiscent of the Ottawa home are among the plans, according to Miller’s letter to the city.
The Eau Claire Plan Commission will hold a public hearing and vote at its 7 p.m. meeting today (Monday) on the site plan and a rezoning that would include the Ottawa House lot.
The city council will then hold a public hearing on November 7 before a decisive vote is taken the following day to allow the new construction project to proceed.
Also at the Planning Commission meeting tonight (Monday):
—Eau Claire GI Associates is seeking approval to create a 7,800 square foot medical office building on an empty 5-acre lot at 3940 Oakwood Hills Parkway. This land is located between Bremer Bank and the Home2 Suites hotel, along the road that surrounds the Oakwood Mall.