JANESVILLE, Wis. - Car enthusiast Tom Skinner owns a 1937 Chevrolet made at the old General Motors plant in Janesville. Over the years he has seen the city change, but he said there is one thing that should remain the same.
"This is a car town. General Motors has been here and Samson Tractor before that. We want to highlight and showcase this history of transportation in this city," Skinner said.
Skinner, along with other city residents, has formed the group Friends of Franklin Street Service Station to save a former 1930s gas station from being torn down. They are asking the city to allow them to restore the building and turn it into a classic car museum.
"I think this has a real good chance of bringing people to the downtown area. We've lost so many historic buildings, and this is one of the few remaining historic gas stations in the city. It would be a shame to see it disappear," he said.
The city had plans to use the space behind the police department to expand police headquarters. Instead, the city council agreed Monday in a 4 to 3 vote to give the group until the end of the year to come up with a financial plan to save the building.
"We've been trying to save this building for many years, and we haven't had many proposals to come and save it. The city had decided if we didn't have any, we should remove blight from our downtown. However, at the 11th hour a car group came forward that expressed interest in this building, because once they (historic buildings) are gone, they're gone," council member Doug Marklein said.
Marklein said the city has no immediate need to use the property to expand the police department, but said it is looking toward the future of the department. The police station could also be expanded to the north instead of the east, where the former gas station is. However, that would require moving existing electrical and gas utilities, which would be a more expensive option for the city.
The city estimates the property needs $90,000 in repairs just on the roof alone and another $250,000 to $290,000 to renovate the entire property. However, group members are looking to cut major costs with help from the community.
"We would get bids that would be much more competitive, and we would rely on a lot of local free labor," Skinner said.
Skinner estimates the whole project could be done for around $50,000. As the end of the year quickly approaches, he said the group hopes to come up with a plan that the city will approve.
"We're hopeful that this will be a project that is a full go and will be one of the highlights to the downtown area here in Janesville," he said.
If the council approves their plan the group would have an additional eight months to come up with the necessary funding. If those goals are not met, council officials said they will go forward with demolishing the building.
Friends of Franklin Street Service Station is a subgroup of the same group of citizens that have been working with the city to restore and renovate Oak Hill Chapel.
The group was successful in saving the Chapel from demolition this year through fundraising efforts. Members of the group hope they will be just as successful as they have been in the past.
Skinner said the group will now start fundraising efforts. They have also set up a Facebook page and are planning to launch a website in the future to gain more support.
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