The city of Algoma is taking a comprehensive look at the long-term future not just of the former Algoma Hardwoods property but also potential redevelopment around the city.
Meanwhile, the owner of the 30-acre site at 1001 Perry St. says the massive building, closed a year ago by Masonite Corp., still has some life in it.
The 497,947-square-foot complex along the Ahnapee River was built in various stages from 1892 to the early 1960s. For most of that time it was a center of the local wood products industry.
The City Council this week heard a review by Gary Becker of his 79-page report “Algoma Hardwoods Site Evaluation and Community Development Strategy,” in which the Madison consultant concludes that changing standards for industrial have resulted in nearly half the structure being unsuitable for modern industrial use.
“Modern industry likes big, wide open floors with high ceilings, and only about half of that building meets those standards,” Becker told the council.
Because the property is located in the flood plain, Becker said, local and state laws restrict investment in improvements to the building to half the equalized value of the property or about $420,000.
The long-term use of the property – speaking in decades – will probably be strictly for agricultural or recreational purposes, Becker said, although he added that the existing structure has not outlived its useful life and may even have historical significance.
But he also noted grants to help take down the old buildings are available from the state Department of Natural Resources and Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.
“Starting now, even if we’re thinking demolition five or 10 years down the road, starting to talk to the DNR and starting to talk to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. about this, starting to pull the information together to apply for these grants is not too soon,” Becker said.
Wendell “Whitey” Ellsworth, who with a group of other employees purchased the land and business in 1977 and gave it the Algoma Hardwoods name, said the building’s usefulness for manufacturing and commerce is far from over.
Discussions are ongoing with businesses interested in the space, he said.
“We’re not looking in terms of modern manufacturing space for a Foxconn,” Ellsworth said, referring to the giant high-tech that is building a state-of-the-art facility in southeast Wisconsin. “We’re looking to maybe incubate some smaller things, some of which work, some of which don’t, who don’t need the whole damn place. They don’t need a quarter-million feet, but they need some space that’s kind of reasonable.”
Becker said he agreed with Ellsworth’s assessment of the situation.
Looking beyond the Hardwoods site, Becker suggested that the city look to revitalize its Business Park, which has some vacant land for development, and consider forming a redevelopment authority to oversee projects aimed at improving blighted areas and brownfields.
The available Business Park is bisected by a wetland that “orphans” some property along Evergreen Street, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, Becker said.
“The city should ask the city engineer to prepare options for connecting the orphaned area to the rest of the Business Park, and we should consider how to use the wetlands, instead of being a liability, to promote it as an asset, thinking in terms of a campus-like environment for light manufacturers or office-type uses,” he said.
Another area to be considered for redevelopment is the land between the bridges, including the closed Monarch Ware site, Becker said.
By state law a redevelopment authority has seven members and a strict focus on restoring blighted and rundown areas. It has a separate budget but its actions need city council approval.
Expansion of existing tax incremental financing districts or creating a new one are also options in the city’s toolbox, Becker said.