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The old Williams Shoe Store on Commerce Boulevard in Mound has been sitting empty for 25 years. A complaint last summer that led to an “unsafe building” declaration is now forcing improvements through a restorative agreement and with abatement (and likely demolition) as a back-up option. (Elizabeth Hustad/Laker Pioneer)

Mound city officials are now positioned to force improvements on a building that, in lying dormant some 25 years, has surpassed mere eyesore to become both a developmental headache and, for good or ill, a bit of a landmark in town: the old Williams Shoe Store.

A complaint made to the city last August about brick falling off the front façade led to a building inspection that turned up 39 items in need of attention and a declaration by the inspector that the old store was “structurally unsafe” due to rotting wood found beneath its brick.

That “unsafe” declaration has now brought things to a head and the city has given its owner an ultimatum: work with us to fix it up or see its abatement and likely demolition.

Council members voted unanimously Jan. 26 to prepare the documents necessary for both the preferred restorative agreement that would force repairs or, failing that, its abatement.

“I would love to see that building fixed up—I don’t need to see it torn down, I don’t think anybody here says it has to be torn down—but we need to see something done,” said council member Phil Velsor.

The building’s current owner, James Lang, had purchased the building in the mid-1990s but allowed it to remain untouched, its utilities shut off, until a couple of years ago when some roof repairs were made and old store inventory cleared out, Mound Mayor Ray Salazar told Laker Pioneer. Since then, nothing much has happened other than tacking blue contact paper over the windows, previously boarded up.

The city has received multiple complaints over the years but nothing serious enough to force repairs or abatement until now, said Scott Qualle, Mound’s building official through MNSPECT. 

Lang had hired a structural engineer to do an independent walk-through of the building last September following initial notice given him by the city. That engineer reported stepped cracks on an inside wall and that a portion of the back end of the building, that facing the marsh, was separating, but disagreed with Qualle’s assessment and said that otherwise the property was structurally sound.

The Williams Store, dating at least to the 1950s if not earlier, is “a product of the Depression,” Salazar told the Laker, commenting that it was built somewhat piecemeal: “a little of this, a little of that and use whatever you had.”

Both Lang and the city are preferring restoration to abatement, which city manager Eric Hoversten said would likely lead to demolition as the most cost-effective solution.

Lang, with the help of foe turned friend Claudia Lacy, made a pitch for its restoration during the Jan. 26 council session. Lacy owns The Langdon across the street from the Williams Store and said she had been Lang’s “Number 1 critic” for years but that she’s “completely flipped” her position and has a vision for it beyond an empty lot “with foot-long weeds on it.”

Lacy did not elaborate on her idea for the old store but did say she’d like to see it turned into a kind of community space and that it ought to happen soon.

“The primary thing we’re discussing right now is putting a beautiful building there and not so much worrying about what’s going in it. The building needs to be safe, beautiful and a benefit to our community,” she said. “That’s the first thing, and it needs to happen on a schedule.”

Lacy did say, however, that if nothing could be done with it that she would still like to see the building gone.

Council members agreed that the building’s restoration and future use was ideal but pushed back against an idea that came with no specifics for its use, no architectural plans and no financial game plan.

Hoversten, too, said it was “in everybody’s best interests” to work toward a restorative agreement but that by also drafting the paperwork for abatement the city would keep “backstopping pressure” on the table and have a ready alternative if the property owner failed to meet the restorative requirements of that agreement.

“People in this town are looking at that building and they want something done with it [...] I know this town is itching for something to happen there.” said Velsor.

“With enough money, anything can be brought back to life,” added Salazar. But “this building has got a lot of issues.”

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