RHINELANDER - Inside Tricia's Treasures in downtown Rhinelander, Jennifer Sturzl takes a lot of pride in a carefully crafted latte. But out the back door, things aren't as pretty.
Across the alley sits the run-down former Kabel Auto building. Its brick walls are heavily aged, and many windows are boarded up.
"First of all, it's an eyesore," Sturzl said Thursday morning.
But soon, that so-called eyesore across from McDonald's will come down, and it could likely turn into a parking lot on South Stevens Street.
"[That would be] huge," Sturzl said. "If it's easy access to get here, [shoppers are] going to come."
The city of Rhinelander wants to buy the building, tear it down, and potentially build a parking lot with 30 to 40 parking spaces. Those spaces would add to the approximately 470 parking stalls in city-owned lots.
Downtown businesses know how important that easy access is. Plenty of them struggled through the summer of 2016 as the city reconstructed 21 downtown blocks, wiping out parking and hurting business-- including Mark Gutteter's Rhinelander Cafe and Pub, which was down 15 percent in sales last summer.
"Right now, they tend to park close to the front doors of the main street businesses and, in many cases, those cars are there all day long," Gutteter said of the current parking situation. "The more parking you've got, the more business potential you've got."
Several years ago, Gutteter--serving as Downtown Rhinelander, Inc.'s president--developed the idea to knock down the old Kabel building alongside the long-vacant Lindey Cleaners building. The city demolished the 95-year-old building in March 2015.
"We don't build them like that, like we used to," Gutteter said of old architecture around town. "By the same token, this one had gotten past the useful point in its life."
When the building comes down in May, the space won't just magically turn into a parking lot. The city might let the lot sit for up to a year to let the soil settle.
Rhinelander Public Works Director Tim Kingman says the $200,000 project to buy and tear down the building won't cost the city more than about $15,000. That's thanks to a Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation grant worth around $97,000 and Cleary Foundation gifts pushing $80,000.
"I think we are the [beneficiaries] of two very valued things, and one is donation and the other is the grant program that's been successful in helping us," Kingman said.
But once the demolition happens this spring, Kingman says a parking lot isn't guaranteed.
"We've always had a formative stage where we would go and make this into a parking lot, and that may be the direction we go, but we do have options open," Kingman said.
Those options include a playground, open-air theater, or public market. The city also might make a parking lot featuring a small park. But no matter what the city decides, workers like Jennifer Sturzl just want to see a change soon.
"Anything we can do downtown is great to get this downtown looking beautiful," Sturzl said.
The city plans to take full ownership of the Kabel building in mid-May, with a tentative demolition date of May 22.