By: Zach Bailey and Madelyn Swenson
The downtown Winona building that housed the Mason Jar bar is back under construction after almost entirely burning down four years ago.
Greg Karow, building official for the City of Winona, has been following the reconstruction process of the building at the corner of Third and Walnut streets since the fire occurred.
“At first we looked at the building and it was designated as a hazardous building. The only thing left standing was the exterior walls, free standing without support,” Karow said. “The owner wanted to rehab it, and it’s a historical building on the registry; that process kept running into delays and that’s why it sat there.”
Karow and Bert Kimman, property manager of Walnut Apartments, agreed a main concern was stability of the walls.
The fire had destroyed all of the internal building, leaving only the original brick on the outer layer untouched.
“I had seen movement, so they had a company brace it all up,” Karow said. “It is a very unique building because it was old, the outside walls were structurally not able to carry any load. The construction technique was to build a superstructure inside the building, so nothing sets on the outside walls, they’re just tied to the inside. They built a building inside of the shell.”
Kimman described the process as building a new building inside of old walls.
“All the columns are steel columns,” Kimman said. “It’s basically a steel frame inside the brick.”
Construction on the main structure has been completed. Now, windows and doors are being put in place.
“We have a lot of work to do on the outside yet,” Kimman said. “By no means is it close to done.”
According to Karow, construction is nearing the two-thirds or three-quarters mark of completion, with most of the work left to do being plumbing, drywall and mechanicals.
Karow said city inspection staff has visited the property 12 to 15 times.
“There is inspection criteria for any building that we’re able to get in,” Karow said. “We look at things in milestones before things can get covered up. Because of the unique character of the building, we’ve been down there consulting quite a bit.”
Though the building is now under construction, the possible future of this building was different two years ago.
In June 2017, the Winona City Council announced plans to begin the demolition process of the building, after it sat vacant for more than two years.
According to Karow, interest to “salvage the building due to its historic nature” was what ultimately saved the building from demolition.
Building owner, Chase Hoffman had been pushing for renovating the building at the time, but was not finishing paperwork and meeting deadlines on time, Karow said.
“Even with the bracing up it was still a very temporary situation,” Karow said. “From my perspective, I needed to push [Hoffman] off dead center, either you are or aren’t, here’s a drop dead date, what are you gonna do?”
After the city “saved the building” from demolition, plans began to be made for what the building would house in the future.
Kimman and Hoffman plan to make the first level a commercial space, with 21 apartments throughout the rest of the building. No plans have been made as to what will open in the commercial space.
Kimman said it will not be another bar or restaurant because they did not put in the vents needed for that kind of business. He said the space will most likely be some kind of retail.
The apartments will range in pricing from $400 to $950 a month. Kimman has a few tenants lined up for the leasing year starting June 2019.
Though the building is in the final stages of the renovation process, this is not the first time the building has been under construction during the building’s time in Winona.
Since being built in 1888 the building has had three editions. Originally the building was only about half the size it is currently.
As construction nears the end, Karow shared his thoughts on the process the building has gone through during construction.
“It’s been a very difficult path and has taken a long time to get this thing going,” Karow said. “Now that it’s moving forward we see light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a very unique building, this is a considerable step up. We’re not done, but we’re getting there.”