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Officials seek input on historic Superior projects

Superior’s Historic Preservation Committee has compiled a short list of properties officials could put American Rescue Plan Act dollars into restoring.

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The former Frankie's Bar, 1310-1312 Tower Ave., has stood vacant for five years. A feasibility study was commissioned by the city with the goal of saving the building that first opened as the Theatre Princess in 1913.
Contributed / LHB

SUPERIOR — City officials are asking members of the public to pinpoint which properties to focus on when allocating $3.5 million in federal America Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds that have been earmarked for historic preservation.

A public meeting on the issue will take place from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 7, at Thirsty Pagan Brewing, 1615 Winter St. A short presentation will be followed by time for participants to rank projects and suggest additional options.

“We really want to hear just about every idea there is about what particular properties might need some focus and attention” and winnow them down from there, said Jeff Skrenes, housing and planning coordinator for the city.

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City officials are considering restoring the 90-foot arch that once stood in honor of the Grand Army of the Republic at the corner of Tower Avenue and Broadway Street restored.
Contributed / Douglas County Historical Society

Superior’s Historic Preservation Committee has compiled a short list of possibilities, ranging from adding an elevator to the former city hall building at 1323 Broadway St.; roofing and repair work at the Old Fire Hall Museum at 402 23rd Ave. E.; to re-establishing the arch at the intersection of Tower Avenue and Broadway Street.

Mayor Jim Paine said one of his top picks is restoring the Princess Theatre at 1310 Tower Ave. Theater remodels in other cities have been met with success, and Superior’s downtown would benefit from an arts center, he said.

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“So it’s kind of the perfect project,” Paine said. “But there are a number of other projects, small and large, that we could invest in as well.”

Opened in 1913 as the Theatre Princess, Frankie's Tavern downtown could see new life with the right project.

It's not just $3.5 million on the table. The city has additional resources to draw from for historic preservation efforts, Paine said, including the Historic Preservation Fund, nonprofit grants, capital improvement dollars and a public art fund.

“We just want to find out what the priorities are. What’s most important to the history and culture and social and economic development of the community,” Paine said.

A January fire that destroyed two historic warehouse buildings along the city’s waterfront prompted the mayor to suggest using a portion of the city’s $17 million in federal ARPA funds for historic preservation, an idea that was approved by the city council.

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A pair of Superior firefighters walk back to a burning warehouse in Superior’s North End Thursday morning, Jan. 6, 2022. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“The warehouse fires really showed the urgency of saving historic buildings, but for the past few months we had been looking at the feasibility of restoring the Princess Theatre as well,” Paine said.

Post pandemic, it’s also been difficult to get private developers to take on projects like these.

“So a combination of the risk of fire, the state of the building, as well as a few more buildings, it made it extremely unlikely that we would be able to save historic buildings in the near future and very, very likely that they would be destroyed, either through neglect or fire,” Paine said.

The ARPA funds were intended to help communities recover from the pandemic and ensure they don’t go through something similar to what they endured in 2020. The mayor said the city had some flexibility with a certain amount of the money, and restoring historic properties fit the broad definition of the bill.

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“So that’s kind of the idea behind this is let’s leave the pandemic with a more vibrant community than we entered,” he said.

One big question is what constitutes an historic property.

Skrenes said an intensive survey put together by the Wisconsin Historical Society in 2019 offers some direction. It pinpointed 71 sites or buildings that would be potentially eligible to be placed on the state or national register of historic places, as well as four potential historic districts. A link to the survey is available on the city’s Historic Preservation page .

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A fox pauses while walking on the frozen Superior Bay in front of the Fairlawn Mansion in Superior Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram

Those unable to attend the meeting can still rank possible projects and suggest additional ones through an online survey that launched Wednesday, March 30.

The current list of projects includes the following:

  • Meteor Whaleback Museum, 200 Marina Dr.
  • Carnegie Library, 1204 Hammond Ave.
  • Princess Theatre, 1310 Tower Ave.
  • Tower Avenue Arch, intersection of Tower Avenue and Broadway Street.
  • Old Fire Hall Museum, 402 23rd Ave. E.
  • General restoration along downtown Tower Avenue.
  • General restoration of industrial waterfront.
  • Nemadji Cemetery work.
  • A working fountain at Hammond Park.
  • Billings Park grandstand repairs.
  • Restoration and preservation of park pavilions.
  • First Church of Christ, 1902 John Ave.
  • Organ bells for the Presbyterian church building, now the World of Accordions Museum.
  • Former Bob’s Chop Suey House building, 1307 Tower Ave.
  • Fairlawn Mansion exterior painting and parking lot repaving.
  • Former city hall elevator, 1323 Broadway St.
  • Revolving loan fund or grants to fix privately-owned historic homes.
Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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