The Dunn County News (Menomonie, WI)- For more than 130 years, the Heller Building — referred to in more recent decades as the Lee Building — has stood on the northwest corner of Main and Second Streets in downtown Menomonie. But come next summer, it will be but a memory of a bygone era, and a new hotel will stand in its place.
Because the property lies within a historical district, special permission needed to be granted for the proposed project. On Monday, the Menomonie Historic Preservation Commission approved, on a 4-2 vote, two certificates of appropriateness — for 149 Main St. E and 125 Main St. E — that will allow construction of a four-story, 51-room Cobblestone Inn to go forward.
Owned by Keith St. LLC of Eau Claire, the building at 149 Main St. that currently houses Black Thumb Glass and Jeff’s Pizza Shop will be razed, while Jill’s My Style building next door at 125 Main St. will either be moved or demolished.
About the project
Bill Albright, vice president of Heartland Contractors Inc., told the commission that the original intent when he and Paul Madsen purchased the property a year ago was to remodel the second floor for student housing. After having architects and structural engineers inspect the building, Albright said, “It just came to fruition that it wasn’t a viable option. ... We ended up moving in a different direction.”
Working with Albright, Dan Fedderly said that the old Lee building was among several downtown properties he himself considered several years ago for possible historic restoration before settling on The Raw Deal a couple of blocks away on Broadway. He confirmed Albright’s assessment that the basic elements needed no longer exist.
“There’s a large difference between restoration and replication,” Fedderly said. “When I looked at the Lee Building, there wasn’t anything to restore.”
In an attempt to incorporate elements of existing downtown architecture, Albright said the exterior of the new hotel will feature three floors of replicated slate, storefront-type windows, overhangs, canopies, cast stone coins on the corners and Main Street access for guests. The building itself will be 47 feet high, about as high as the eaves of the Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts across the street to the east.
The main entrance will face north at the rear of the building. There will be parking on the east side, and plans are in the works to lease additional parking from Bremer Bank.
“This is going to be a very substantial, great-looking building that, in 50 to 100 years, this same commission is going to fight to keep. It’s going to be a fixture in downtown Menomonie,” Albright said, predicting that the Cobblestone Inn will serve as a catalyst to boost the local economy.
Brian Wogernese is the president of Cobblestone Hotels, based out of Neenah. The company currently has 67 hotels throughout the country with 13 more under construction — one of them in his hometown of Chippewa Falls. Having attended UW-Stout, he is familiar with Menomonie.
Citing an industry study, he said that, including the cost of the hotel stay, the average guest spends between $180 to $185 on restaurants, shopping and gas per visit.
Recognizing the commission’s charge to preserve the historic look of downtown, Wogernese said, “The one thing you want to take into consideration here ... is the economic impact to the downtown and your other buildings — and that’s what this hotel is going to do.”