Local preservationists fought their hardest to save a flood-damaged, one-time grocery store at the entryway to New Bohemia and at the bridge to Czech Village, only this week convincing a City Council committee to do the same.
On Friday morning, though, a fire of suspicious origin burned the 120-plus-year-old building to the ground.
“I am looking at nothing,” Beth Chacey DeBoom, president of Save CR Heritage, said standing in front of the fire site at 9 a.m. Friday.
“I’ve covered a lot of fires,” added DeBoom, a former news reporter. “I’ve seen remnants of buildings still remain after a fire. This one is completely leveled. It’s just gone. There’s a little bit of smoke.”
The former Globe Grocery, 131 14th Ave. SE, with residential space on its second floor, had become a central focus of Save CR Heritage in recent months as one of seven historic flood-damaged properties in New Bohemia that faced demolition if someone didn’t step up in the final moments with a redevelopment plan.
Just a month ago, the City Council’s Development Committee expressed great skepticism about the Globe building, with council member Pat Shey describing the building as a “mishmash” of a structure “cobbled together” over the years. He suggested that it might make more sense to tear it down and build something new rather than trying to renovate it.
The Globe building also was in both the 100-year flood plain, and more importantly, in the construction zone set aside by the council for the construction of the city’s new flood protection system.
This week, though, both Shey and council member Monica Vernon, chairwoman of the council’s Development Committee, said they had a change of heart and wanted to see the Globe building saved. They credited DeBoom’s group with helping to change their minds. In fact, Shey, Vernon and council member Scott Olson said they were willing to keep the building where it’s at despite the construction zone, if the city got a good redevelopment proposal.
“Darn,” Vernon said Friday morning. “I loved how the Globe served as a focal point for the south end of Second Street SE. We’ll have to figure out something else.”
Tim Blumer, a retired Rockwell Collins engineer and one of three partners of KHB Redevelopment Group LLC, on Friday said his group had studied the Globe property and was prepared to submit a proposal to the City Council to redevelop the property. Blumer attended this week’s council Development Committee meeting.
“We feel very badly that it’s been lost,” Blumer said. “It was a really neat historic building that we thought had a lot of potential to look pretty much like it did in its glory days. And we’re disappointed we won’t be able to do that now. I guess the decision has been made for us.”
Jennifer Pruden, executive director of the Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District, said the loss leaves the void of an important connector between New Bohemia and Czech Village. The planned development would have provided retail shopping or a restaurant, another reason to walk between the two sides of the river, she said.
“Now there won’t be any building there, ever again,” Pruden said, citing flood restrictions.
Main Street, along with the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, had advocated saving the building as an important component of the district with Save CR Heritage.
DeBoom called the former Globe building “a critical piece” to the development of the New Bohemia arts and entertainment district.
“Of course, it’s great we have other buildings,” she said. “But this one was at the entryway between Czech Village and NewBo. It had a long, lovely history. … We put a lot of work into this one. This one was probably our most important one.
“And the city, in the end, agreed that it was an important piece. And just this week, just this week, it seemed like we had saved it.”