For Real: Huebsch building will become restaurant, apartments
The long-vacant former Huebsch laundry building in downtown Eau Claire soon will be reborn as a mixed-used building featuring a restaurant with river’s-edge seating on the ground level and apartments above, according to designs from a local developer.
Jack Kaiser, who helped successfully transform the sprawling Uniroyal Goodrich tire plant into the multiuse Banbury Place, will bring his plans for the century-old Huebsch building, 101 N. Dewey St., before the city Waterways and Parks Commission on July 22. Kaiser bought the four-level brick building in 2003, a year after Huebsch Services moved out.
“The timing’s right,” Kaiser says when asked why he finally decided to serve up long-awaited plans for the building, which sits on a narrow strip between the downtown bike trail and the Eau Claire River. He cites ongoing commercial and residential development in and around downtown, including the Confluence Project a few blocks downriver, as motivating factors.
In the coming weeks, the proposal will go before the city’s Waterways and Parks Commission as well as the Plan Commission. Assuming plans are OK’d, Kaiser hopes to begin work on the building by Labor Day and to have the project finished by next summer.
The Huebsch building has been vacant for more than a decade, and has been the subject of continuous speculation and some criticism. However, Kaiser waited on the remodeling both because of his focus on other projects (including Banbury Place) and the economic recession. If successful, the project will be the culmination of two long-sought-after civic goals: the hunger for a downtown restaurant with a river view and the desire to do something with the vacant structure.
Mike Schatz, the city’s economic development administrator, says he’s excited by the news. “It is one of the most frequent questions we get: ‘What is going on with the Huebsch building? Why isn’t something being done?’ ” Schatz says. The site has been eyed by the city for redevelopment and has a lot going for it, Schatz says, including proximity to the bike trail, the ability to offer riverside restaurant seating, and the chance for apartments in a renovated historic building, which have proven popular downtown.
“That is a key entryway to downtown now that Galloway Street is used so much,” and having a spruced-up building at the corner will help welcome visitors, Schatz said.
Turning the building’s ground floor into an eatery has always been Kaiser’s goal. Originally, he says, “We really wanted to be able to find the person to put in the restaurant.” However, the ideal eatery tenant has not emerged, so Kaiser is gambling that beginning the renovation now will attract the right restaurateur later. While the exact nature of the eatery isn’t set in stone, at least one thing is clear: Kaiser will be leasing the space, not getting into the restaurant business. “I promised myself I’m not going to fry hamburgers or pour beer,” he quips.
Kaiser hopes to make use of the nearly 20,000-square-foot building’s old-fashioned industrial chic as well as make modern upgrades. Inside, brick walls, wooden timbers, and hardwood floors are already exposed, and will largely remain so (though the vast, echoing spaces will need interior walls and other repairs and remodeling). Outside, brick columns will remain uncovered but the brick and wood surfaces between them will be clad in a stucco-like exterior (similar to what was used on the Chamber Building across the street, which is also owned by Kaiser’s firm).
The south and east sides of the building be edged by a 1,600-square-foot deck overlooking the river that will be able to comfortably seat 100, says architect Bill Anderson. While the building’s west side is on the street, the new main entrance will be on the east side, facing the parking lot. That entrance will be part of a new addition that will include stairways and an elevator.
The upper two floors will be transformed into 10 apartments – some with two bedrooms, some with one – with style and amenities reminiscent of the International Harvester Apartments, which are part of Banbury Place. The bottom level will include banquet seating for 40 to 80 people, while the ground floor will be devoted to a yet-to-be-determined restaurant that will seat 120. Kaiser plans to add some elements – stairwells and bathrooms, for example – but the bulk of the space will be left open to allow flexibility for the eventual restaurant tenant.
Kaiser says the building served as a business incubator of sorts at the turn of the last century. Originally the Gotzian shoe factor, the building was home to the Huebsch Laundry Co. as early as 1914. In 2002, the company, now known as Huebsch Services, relocated to a new facility on White Avenue. It appears that within a few months the venerable building’s much-anticipated next chapter will begin.
Check out more photos ...