Historic building northwest of downtown Oshkosh heads for auction block
By Miles Maguire
The Daily Northwestern Building, a majestic downtown landmark reminiscent of the glory days of the press, will be auctioned later this month.
The three-story structure at the corner of State and Waugoo will be offered over a three-day period starting Sept. 20 with a minimum bid of $ 450,000 for it, an attached building, and two additional plots. The current assessed value of the two properties is $ 400,000, depending on the city.
The auction will take place online and registered bidders will be able to follow the action in real time.
“It is universally recognized as one of the most attractive buildings not only in the city but in the entire state,” Hicks Printing Co. said in a brochure celebrating Northwestern’s first 63 years of operation as a as a daily newspaper and the opening of its new headquarters in 1930.
The Northwest Office “is built of Bedford stone, with massive fluted columns supporting the main entrance, with four pretty little balconies on the upper level, two impressive entrances, front and side, and is topped with a lightly tinted green tile roof, ”the Hicks booklet states.
“A double set of heavy bronze doors” opens into a vestibule and beyond is the commercial office, which “is finished in rosata marble in a rosy hue and the floor is Tennessee marble, in tiles fashioned in a artistic design “.
Another distinctive feature of the first floor is “a modified horseshoe-shaped marble countertop that spans almost the entire width of the room, with wickets at each end,” according to the booklet.
In recent years, the building has been largely vacant. City land records show that Northwestern’s current publisher, Gannett Co. Inc., sold the two buildings and two adjacent plots in 2017 for $ 550,213.
About a third of the space is leased to Gannett, who pays $ 192,600 per year under a lease that runs until 2024, according to the auction site.
“What I would love to see about this location is a second downtown hotel,” said Kris Larson, who has remodeled older buildings for a restaurant, Becket’s, and a grocery store, Wagner Market. .
“I would love to see a historically beautiful hotel in this location because I think it would serve the convention center and downtown well,” said Larson. “And we’re busy enough to be able to use the rooms.”
Mayor Lori Palmeri said the first thing that came to mind for the site was affordable housing. In fact, Oshkosh-based Northpointe Development recently converted the art deco Appleton building that housed another Gannett newspaper, the Post-Crescent, for precisely this purpose.
“The iconic property has many suitable uses, including offices, retail, residences, hotels and warehouses,” according to the company in charge of the sale, New York-based HMX Realty Advisors.
“The building is in the Central Mixed Use Zoning (CMU) district, so there are many different types of uses that are allowed or permitted with a conditional use permit,” said Kelly Nieforth, director of community development for the city.
Murray D. Wikol is the president of ProVisions, a Bloomfield Hills, Michigan company that owns the Northwestern site and has successfully redeveloped a third former Gannett property, the Press-Gazette building in Green Bay.
Wikol said it was considering a “vertical mixed-use” development in Oshkosh, with shops or offices on the first floor and residences above. It can be anything from executive apartments to student accommodation, he said.
“We got a ton of interest,” he said. The auction is now taking place as a dozen parties have given serious consideration to the property and Wikol is keen to jumpstart the development process.
“We are trying to encourage someone to take the lead in the next phase,” he said. “That kind of forces the question of who might be willing to sponsor” a future activity.
The auction has an “undeclared reserve” or minimum price, Wikol said. If the reservation is not respected, he will retain the property.
He said he has invested around $ 500,000 in the building since he bought it. “It’s in excellent condition,” he says. “Someone will have a great opportunity. “
Even if the building is in good condition, the cost of the renovation will still be significant. The historic nature of the building requires the preservation of many of its design features, including a two-story lobby with a mezzanine, a factor that could limit economic returns.
The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that may impose restrictions if the project receives federal funding.
A financially attractive feature of the Northwestern Building is that it sits in a federally designated Opportunity Zone. Opportunity Zones are financially struggling neighborhoods where high-income investors are offered powerful tax incentives to buy and improve property.
Such incentives were cited as a key factor that drew Merge Urban Development Group to Oshkosh, where the Iowa-based company recently completed the Brio Building on Jackson Street and is moving forward with three more structures and a development. of townhouses in a waterfront neighborhood off Chemin Marion.
Other state, local, and federal incentives may also be available, depending on the possible use of the Northwestern Building.
When the building first opened, the Northwestern was owned by the local community and called itself “the largest family newspaper in Wisconsin.” In addition to a bustling newsroom, the structure was equipped with the latest technology, including “automatic typewriters” to capture transmissions from wire services, Mergenthaler typographers, and high-speed presses.
Although Colonel John Hicks died more than a decade before the Northwestern Building opened, the site has been described as a memorial to him. A life-size portrait of Hicks looks out over the lobby from “an arched niche, directly above the fire-retardant arch door.”
Hicks had been one of the first and very influential owners of the newspaper and was instrumental in shaping Oshkosh’s physical appearance and aesthetics. Among other things, his efforts to beautify the city are remembered by funding several works of public art.
These include the Statue of Chief Oshkosh in Menominee Park, the Soldiers’ Monument in Opera Square, the bust of Abraham Lincoln which is now installed outside the Oshkosh Public Museum, and the two life-size lions that adorn the steps of the Oshkosh Public Library.