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Grant to aid demolition of century-old Blanchardville building
The downtown Blanchardville building slated to be torn down in coming months is owned by Loves Park, Illinois, resident Joshua Schmit. The village sought legal action against Schmit and obtained a court order in early 2015 to knock down the structure that has stood for more than a century. (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)
BLANCHARDVILLE - A downtown building that has been a blight to the village for at least half a decade was the background of an event Wednesday to announce that Blanchardville received a grant of more than $83,000 from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

"As village president and as a business owner within the village, you know, a blight on Main Street and on your community is quite sad, quite depressing, and I take it personal because it's kind of an embarrassment," said Mark Emberson, Blanchardville Village Board president, while standing outside the brick building Wednesday.

Emberson was one of seven speakers who stood in an enclosed grassy area directly south of 405/407 S. Main St., outlined by faded brick and broken windows. Village Clerk Amy Barnes said the building constructed more than a century ago, which displays "MID-AMERICA DAIRYMAN INC." on its front, was used as a limburger production plant. Since its original use, there has been a printing press inside the walls and at one point, an owner wanted to raise fish in the building.

"This has been challenging, but I'm so grateful," Emberson said, as he thanked those in the crowd, including local business owners and current and former officials, for all of their work on the project.

The grant announcement was made by Tricia Braun, deputy secretary and chief operating officer of WEDC. State Sen. Howard Marklein of District 17, Blanchardville Community Pride Incorporated President Paul Saether, Principal Consultant Chris Valcheff of Madison-based True North Consultants, Lafayette County Economic Development Coordinator Abby Haas and Emberson spoke to a crowd of 20 people, including local business owners and representatives.

The village was one of three recipients announced within the state by Braun and the WEDC. Earlier in the day, the group stopped in Platteville and Fennimore to announce the cities each received a $250,000 development grant.

"This is awesome," Braun said. "This is the smallest community we've been in today and the largest crowd. I think that just speaks volumes for the heart and commitment people have in small communities, especially here in Wisconsin."

Joshua A. Schmit of Loves Park, Illinois, has owned the building for at least four years, according to land and court records. The village secured a court order in March 2015 to have the structure razed. Barnes said Schmit has "basically stopped communicating" with the village.

The grant will assist in an environmental site investigation and the building demolition for a redevelopment project on the 0.3-acre lot, according to WEDC.

"Blanchardville will definitely be a better place to live when this building is gone," Saether said. "Blanchardville Community Pride has gone through many different goals. One of our early goals was historic preservation and downtown beautification. I think the historic preservation opportunity here is gone."

Marklein noted that time-consuming projects and securing grant funds requires a number of committed individuals.

"This kind of a grant isn't probably a real exciting, external grant ... but I think this grant represents the hope, the promise of what this could be," Marklein said. "These things take a long time. Thank you for your patience, thank you for your persistence; stuff like this doesn't happen overnight."

Saether said Emberson should especially receive gratitude for his work on the project, echoing Braun's comments about village leaders.

"I commend the community's leadership and all of this greater team that we've talked about that makes things like this happen," Braun said. "There are a lot of communities that would never even think that they could do something different with a building of this size in their downtown."

Valcheff said "if all goes well," the project bids should be received in May. The project would begin within the following three months and be finished by the end of 2018.