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Design Commission evaluates progress on Fort Crawford Hotel

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By Steve Van Kooten

 

On Blackhawk Ave., along the street that feeds into St. Feriole island like the Mississippi River’s mouth into the Atlantic Ocean, looming over patrons of restaurants and shops in the historic downtown of Prairie du Chien, the Fort Crawford Hotel has sat inert and lifeless for many years.

Imbued in the old, cloistered bricks is a history; the story of Prairie du Chien lives in places like the hotel. For many years it has been allowed to deteriorate. From the outside, the Hotel has lived a hard life, but on the inside, away from the public eye, one man was hard at work trying to restore it.

Todd Crotty, owner of the Muddy Waters Pizza and Pub restaurant on Blackhawk Ave., purchased the Fort Crawford Hotel with the intent to restore its luster. Crotty’s goal was to install his business in the location’s first floor. Like a modern day Dr. Frankenstein, he wanted to put a spark of life back into one of Prairie’s dead.

When the Design and Preservation Commission met on Sept. 11, Crotty attended with his wife and children to discuss progress on the Hotel’s repairs and updates. 

In attendance were Chad Fradette, Chair of the Design and Preservation Committee; Tammy Katzung; Kelssi Ziegler, 3rd District Chair; Katie Garrity; and Linda Munson. Along with the commission were Nate Gilberts, City Planner, and Cassie Rickleff, Zoning Administrator.

After more than an hour, the Commission set a timeline for Crotty’s work on the building, the Demolition by Neglect order placed on property and the inspection performed on the Hotel earlier in the month to evaluate the work done thus far.

 

Inspection

Fradette stated the City had given Crotty until Aug. 31, 2023, to complete work on certain areas of the building. An inspection conducted by Kent Fish, PE, of the General Engineering Company, took place on Sept. 8. Fish attended the meeting to review improvements made.

The inspection focused on three areas: repair of the roof structure, brick work and window repair. Fish stated that structural issues that would be a danger to the community were resolved and noted the roof had been repaired “before winter.” Fish said the repairs had extended the life of the roof by 3-5 years.

Fish’s inspection approximated the brick work to be 90 percent complete. While there were still areas that needed repair, Fish stated, “The stuff that’s left are relatively small. It’s not a huge structural concern.”

The Commission aired concerns to Crotty and Fish about the building’s North Wall, which Fish noted in his inspection had spalling on some brick work and “minor bowing” of the area. Fish suggested a fortification process before bricks were replaced.

Katzung asked about bricks falling: “It still looks dangerous, like it’s going to fall down.”

“I don’t see any imminent failure of that back wall,” Fish said. Fish went on to note a previous repair of the area had replaced the brick around the central area of the wall; however, the brickwork that remained was compromised to a degree. “I think it looks worse than it is.”

Fish’s inspection of the windows determined the work progress was 75-80 percent completed. Windows that weren’t completed faced the alley and were not visible to the public. Some windows still had plywood installed as Crotty continues to refurbish frames and caulk for weatherproofing. The inspection stated this process “should work acceptably for many years to come.”

 

Timeline

Crotty stated his plan was to focus on the front portion of the building and to make the improvements necessary to house a restaurant in the property. Crotty gave a tentative goal of Jan. 1, 2025, for the business to open in the new location.

“When that’s done, I’ll be able to generate the revenue necessary to tackle that back part,” Crotty said, “to build the internal structure, fix that back wall and put glass in the windows.” Crotty agreed with the Commission’s suggestion that alleviating his current rent expenses would help him raise funds quicker for the building’s repair work.

The Commission determined a time frame for Crotty’s work on the Hotel:

Nov. 6: brick and window work would be completed by the next meeting. Additionally, Crotty would provide an update on his acquisition and payment for structural plans for the building prepared by architects. Crotty estimated he’d receive plans in the next 60 days but then had to purchase them to share with anyone.

Sept. 2026: Crotty will have built the internal structures necessary to begin work on the North Wall. Crotty stated the three year timeline was “a safe one.” Crotty noted, “There’s a safety component I need to consider when working inside.” He further explained the need for the construction of an internal structure that would make areas safe to conduct repairs.

Sept. 2028: The North Wall would be finished and glass installed in all windows.

Also, the Commission decided a yearly evaluation would be utilized to evaluate deadlines as needed based on updates provided to the Commission by Crotty.

Crotty requested the Commission raise the Demolition By Neglect order on the building provided he met all benchmarks for the Nov. 6 meeting update. “I like the Demolition By Neglect relationship we have here, but I don’t like the stigma tied to it.”

Ziegler stated, “That might be a little soon... you won’t have access to Kent [Fish] to help you. I understand the stigma tied to it.”

The Commission determined the order would stay in effect and would be subject to change based on the yearly evaluations.

Ziegler and Fradette praised Crotty’s work on the building, and Ziegler noted that nobody thought anyone could complete the work. 

“It’s no small feat what you accomplished so far,” Ziegler said.

Fradette stated, “I’m confident if we say, ‘Todd, this needs to be done in five years,’ it’ll be done.”

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